It doesn’t matter how bizarre the plot of your novel is, whether you base it 10 decades in the past or 10 light years from earth, if your characters are strong and believable your story will be too. Strong characters hold a story together allowing for a previously unimaginable situation to become whilst not ‘every day’ certainly acceptable. When I say strong I don’t mean as in aggressive, I mean clear, defined and emotive.
Your reader needs to feel they know the characters. Each person needs to be as real to them as their friends, teachers, neighbours, workmates. Imagine readers discussing your book, you want to hear them saying, ‘Oh ………. . is such a hunk, I wouldn’t mind being stuck in an elevator with him’ or ‘Don’t talk to me about ………. , she behaves just like my Great Auntie Peg’. Think about Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, you only have to hear the name mentioned and immediately it conjures up a picture of man who appears proud and brooding.
Of course, saying you need to do this doesn’t necessarily help you writing your novel. What you need is practical advice and help on characterization.
Before you write the first line of your story, unless it is burning to be written, create a character profile for all the leading characters in your novel. You can do this in many ways but here are a couple of suggestions.
Write a character biography This could take the form of anything, ranging from a series of bullet points on a page to a stack of handwritten pages. Consider writing their CV, a brief biography or making a picture board of their life.
Find their characteristics Many people live through the same events yet all can be affected differently by them. Therefore you need to list the traits of your character and decide how their life has shaped them: are they wary of some things, do they seem to overreact in certain situations, do they find themselves unable to stand up to certain character types, what makes them appear to act out of character? These are the kinds of things you need to know. Some of the reasoning behind the character will be included in the story, some won’t. Some will need to be explained near the beginning, some can be alluded to with the full disclosure happening as the final climax or cliffhanger at the end of the book.
Remember, only when you know how your characters tick will you be able to make them realistic to the reader.
Elizabeth Bezant, a long-time writer and writing coach, spends most of her time giving workshops and talks to help other writers towards their true writing potential. To find more of her articles and advice visit http://www.elizabethbezant.com .