So You Want to Write a Novel- Part 3: Characters

Characters- So You Want to Write a NovelWelcome back to So You Want to Write a Novel! So far we’ve talked about where we get ideas and the audience, genre, and whether to plan our novels.

Today we’re going to talk about characters, or the people you will have in your novel. If you’re like me, you have the characters of at least ten different novels running around your head all the time, asking “when will you write me.” That makes me sound pretty crazy, but they are all filed away in my notebook, and someday I will write about all of them.

Characters are one of the most important parts of your novel, if not the most important part.

They are what the reader connects to. You want the reader to feel for them right off the bat, and want to root for them or love to hate them. If they are developed enough and have enough conflict, it will help your reader stay engaged in your novel!

We already know about protagonist (the main character, the guy/gal you root for), and antagonist (the ‘bad’ guy who gives the m.c. grief) and supporting characters, so I’m not going to go too much into those.

What I will mention briefly is that its good to have a basis of knowledge about your main characters and vilain before you begin writing.

You need to know who they are in three areas.

Physically:

  • Age, gender, what they look like, health, physical limitations, diet, etc.

Socially:

  • Family, friends, career/ job, education level
  • Basically, how do they fit into their world?

Emotionally:

  • Political beliefs, mental/emotional issues, religion or belief structure, values or morals.

Your character needs a goal.

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They need something that they want more than anything. Characters can have more than one goal throughout a novel or series, but they need to want something so bad they will go through hell and back to get it.

This goal will push the plot forward. What would your character do to achieve their goal?

Your character needs to be motivated to achieve that goal.

What or who pushes them to accomplish their goal? Usually in a characters back story, or something related to the inciting incident will be a characters motivation.

Each of your characters needs to want something and motivation for why they want it.

A great source of conflict is when characters have opposing goals and are struggling against one another.

But your character can’t be perfect.

Because real people aren’t perfect and you want your characters (even imaginary creatures) to be as realistic to the reader as possible. They have to make mistakes.

They have to be flawed in one way or another, a real flaw that holds them back.

It needs to get in their way of reaching their goal. It needs to affect how other characters (and readers) will see and feel about your character. For example, Harry Potter often jumps to conclusions without having all of the information. He assumes things (like when he was certain that Snape was trying to kill him in the first book and wasn’t afraid to tell people so).

Likewise, your antagonist can’t be 100% bad.

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They need to have at least one redeeming quality that makes them sympathetic. The most fascinating characters are likeable or sympathetic some of the time. Look at Voldemort. He has a terrible and complicated back story that has made him who and what he is. When we read about the things he went through, we feel terrible for him and can kind of understand why he ended up the way he did. That doesn’t necessarily make us like him (although I do love Voldemort as a villain) but it helps us to understand him.

A balance of good and bad traits will make your characters realistic and readers will be able to relate better.

And that’s all for today, folks. Let’s chat!

  • How do you determine goals and motivations for your characters? Is it something you plan out ahead of time? Or do they develop naturally?

  • How do you make sure that your characters are flawed?

See you tomorrow for a chat about conflict! Happy writing.

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