Readers won’t care about your writing if they don’t care about your characters. So now is the time to double check your characters in your novel, to see how they measure up to some necessities in character development.
In the past two weeks, I’ve discussed the importance of physical description and history. In this post, I want to bring to your attention your characters’ motivations. Why do your characters do what they do? Why is it that the villain is a killing machine – or that he is somehow driven to embezzle everyone’s funds? What makes your protagonist desire to pursue that particular woman? Why do some of your most important characters enlist for the army? Didn’t they want to do anything else?
A plot does not make sense unless we understand the characters. In fact, the characters are the reason the plot should exist. It is their motivations that must drive the story – not yours. You shouldn’t be sitting there going: “How can I make this bit exciting? Oh, yes, so-and-so will attack the protagonist.” Instead, you should be thinking: “What does my villain want? What does my protagonist want? What are their deepest desires?”
It is these that will unfold a compelling story.
The most exciting book ever can quickly became aggravating, and even incredibly boring, without well-developed characters. Last week, I wrote about the importance of a physical description of characters. This week, I want to highlight something that a lot of authors overlook: history.
How many of you know the histories of your characters? How many of you know their birth dates, their habits, their deepest desires, quirks, and obscure family members? How many of you are aware of their eating habits, the types of plants they like, and their world views? The reader doesn’t have to know everything – sure, I’ll admit it.
But you do.
The reader needs to feel like you know. And there need to be hints. Some of the literary characters that are hardest to get into are those that do not have a well-developed history. The reasons are pretty clear. The reader can’t get into their heads. Also, it seems like there’s very few logical motivations for the characters’ actions.
Overall, it’s not about the reader knowing every little detail, because that makes a book boring as well. It’s about the aura that your characters have. Do they feel like they began before the book did? Do they feel like they go on after the book closes? If they don’t, you have some work ahead of you. Go to it! Every drop of sweat is worth it – take it from someone who is still doing a lot of sweating.
Ever had negative feedback on your work? Ever wondered why people didn’t seem to find it as exciting as you did? Ever wonder why you had to work so hard at getting the words out?
Chances are that your characters weren’t real enough. Characters are an author’s imaginary friends. But if they don’t captivate the audience, then your audience won’t be hooked – no matter how much action you throw at them. And if they don’t feel real, then you will find writing scenes much harder work than it should be.
How is an author to create a character that the reader will remember? A character that the reader will want to hold in their mind forever?
Over the next four weeks, I’m going write about one facet of character development each week. And this week, I’d like to bring physical appearance to your attention.
Can you remember your character’s eye and hair colour? Can you remember what they wear? What their mannerisms are? Do you reference these regularly in your writing so that your reader can see it?
A character’s physical appearance and body language can help drive a scene.
Don’t let your reader be blind. Open their eyes. Introduce them to new people. Show them why they read.
You may never have met them, but there are people out there who believe fantasy is immoral. And perhaps you’re a die-hard fan like me. You’ve read Harry Potter (repeatedly); you quote the books and movies to everyone who doesn’t shut you up; you enjoy Lord of the Rings; you’ve spent some time in a wardrobe, and thoroughly enjoyed films such as Prince Caspian. And in your spare time, you write fantasy and imagine you’re riding a dragon.
So you’re having a fabulous time enjoying a genre you’ve never really questioned or been concerned about. And all of a sudden, someone you respect walks up to you, and you’re having a nice casual chat, and suddenly you mention something by mistake. And now the person you’re talking to says:
“You do realise that particular book is connected to the occult, don’t you?”
“Whaaat?” you say slowly.
“Look up this website. Read this great mind on that particular book. You might want to be more careful in the future.”
They finish with saying that fantasy is an unhelpful genre – even a harmful genre. And then they walk off, and you’re standing there, torn whether to go with the opinion of someone you trust and respect, or go your own merry way.
Which is why it pays to have thought through the issue yourself. There’s nothing wrong with having something to say. If you’re a Christian, you’ll be happy to know that there are some decent arguments for your pro-fantasy position … Take a look at Job 38 the next time you’re flicking through a Bible. God Himself is speaking, and there He talks about “stretching a measuring line” across the earth, “shutting the sea up behind doors when it burst forth from its womb”, and “the earth taking shape like clay under a seal”. None of these things are to be taken completely literally. They’re a picture for something true.
Which is exactly what good, healthy fantasy is.
So if you’re worried when people tell you fantasy is wrong, take a look at the following article. Spread the word.