authors, creativity, Editing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

7 keys to creating unforgettable characters

Along with making sure your book has all the element s of a great story, you also need to make sure your characters are interesting, consistent and an element of your book that draws readers in and keeps them interested. Good characters or poor ones will often determine whether your readers stay with you to the end of the journey or get off at the first stop. If readers lose interest in your characters, they usually lose interest in the story.

So how do you develop memorable characters? Here are some ideas to keep in mind as you write

Create a history for your main characters

The Davinci Code is one example of a book that has all the elements of good characters..

Past experiences help make us who we are and explain many of the decisions we make. So even if you don’t reveal everything about the lives of your characters in your story, it is still very helpful to write a biography to use as a guide for your writing. Identify key events in their lives and key people who influenced them. Answer questions like where did they live, where did they go to school and what jobs did they have. Who helped them along the way? Who hurt them? Knowing these things about your character will ensure you have them act consistently and help you understand what drives them. If you don’t understand a character, your readers won’t either.

Make sure your characters act consistently

Inconsistency in your characters will confuse your readers and make them lose interest. Once you develop a character in a certain way, readers are expecting that character to behave in accordance with his or her personality and motivations as you have revealed them. If that character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense, your readers will notice. Be consistent in even the small things, such as hair color, to big things, like the character’s manner of speaking.

Avoid stereotypes

Shrek is not the stereotypical ogre, which is one of the reasons readers are drawn to him.

A good story surprises the reader and rewards them for reading. Sometimes that happens with a plot twist, but it can also happen with what I call a character twist. One of my favorite examples is the children’s book, Shrek. Even though Shrek is an ogre, he is actually kind and helpful. He is not the stereotypical ogre roaming the forest wreaking havoc in people’s lives.  Make sure there is something unexpected about your characters, but that it aligns with the biography you wrote for them and they act true to themselves throughout the story.

Develop secondary characters that are interesting  

Sidekicks can be some of the most likeable and interesting characters in the story. In some cases, readers can like them as much as the main characters.  They can help or hinder the main characters. They can provide comic relief or threats.  The key is to make sure they move the story along and not just there to take up space on the page. Here again, you may want to consider writing a biography of the character before writing he or she into the story.

Reveal your characters as the story unfolds

Often times, because we love our characters so much we want our readers to know everything about them right away.  So there is a temptation to tell the reader everything about our main character right at the start. We want to give a full physical description, tell the life story, and reveal the innermost thoughts of a character as soon as he or she is introduced. But that can create a very lopsided story and get bog down the reader in too many details.  Introduce your characters, but let your reader get to know them better as the story unfolds just like they would do in a relationship in real life. It will make your book much better.

Have an antagonist

Life has struggles and sometimes we don’t really learn who a person is until we see them in a conflict. In some cases, challenges can come from nature, but usually the most common and interesting struggles are with other people. Good versus evil is the oldest story line there is, but it still works. So make sure as you unfold what the main character is driving towards, it is clear who is creating resistance

Use all the senses

One of the ways you can keep a reader interested in your characters is engage all the senses as you reveal them. Sight is the most obvious sense to use because you can describe what the character looks like or what they are wearing, but don’t neglect the other senses of sound, taste, touch, and smell. Aroma can tell us something about a character. For example, you don’t need to tell the reader your character smokes. Instead, you could say the jacket he wore had a hint of cigarette smoke. It still conveys the idea that this person likely is a smoker, but it does it in a more interesting way.

Hopefully, you have found these suggestions helpful. If you have other keys you would like to share, please use the comment section to provide your tips.

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Author Solutions, authors, Editing, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

When six words are enough to tell a good story.

Book lovers peruse new titles at the Author Solutions gallery at the Miami Book Fair

Book lovers peruse new titles at the Author Solutions gallery at the Miami Book Fair

One of my favorite events of the year is always the Miami Book Fair, which is held the week before Thanksgiving. It is one of the premier venues where authors and book lovers gather to meet, mingle and discover new books.  Along with the usual schedule of activities and outstanding street fair, this year included an interesting community event called #6wordsmiami. The premise was really simple.  People submit a six-word Miami-influenced story and the Fair published the best from among the 4,000+ entries.

Six words does not sound like a lot, but as the list below shows, a writer can express significant meaning in a mere half-dozen words.  Here are some of my favorites.

  • You: Category 5 hurricane. Me: shutters
  • Tie that mattress down good, bro
  • Without Castro, there is no me
  • T’was a dark and stormy party
  • Liquor smell. Like home. Like Dad.
  • He came. He saw. Date over.

Now why is something like #6wordsmiami helpful for writers to know about? Three reasons immediately come to mind.

  1. Sometimes you can say more by actually saying less.
  2. The right words, even if only a few, can create a powerful image that engages all the senses
  3. It is a reminder of  how important it is for writers to choose their words carefully

So as you write and rewrite and rewrite again, ask your self these two questions.

  1. Could I say what I just said with fewer words?
  2. Could I use a different word or sentence structure to create a more powerful image for the reader?
Story time at the Miami Book Fair in the Author Solutions book gallery

Story time at the Miami Book Fair in the Author Solutions book gallery

Chances are if you take an honest appraisal of your work, you will find places where you can improve it by simply remembering to use fewer words or using an even better word than the one you have chosen so far.

Remember no one buys a book based on the number of words or page count. They buy it because it is good writing that impacts them.

 

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Author Solutions, authors, Editing, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

The 4 most important elements of a great novel

The Author Learning Center was created with the purpose to help authors learn from other authors to improve their craft, understand their publishing options, plus gain insights on marketing and bookselling. I have made the statement before that I think it is the most comprehensive resource on the web for aspiring authors to learn about writing, publishing and marketing. The latest example that supports my case is this interview with Meg Waite Clayton, author of Wednesday’s Daughter’s among others.

Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. If you don’t have those, you don’t have a story

In this interview, which was filmed at The San Francisco Writers Conference, Meg shares some practical advice on the key elements to include in a novel that is well written. The interview is only three minutes long and definitely worth the watch, but in case you don’t hit play, here are her recommendations.

  1. Focus on the plot–Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. If you don’t have those, you don’t have a story
  2. Let your characters have flaws–Perfection is not that interesting according to Meg. Anger, frustration, shortcomings–these are the things that make characters interesting and help the reader relate to them.
  3. Deliver the details in an interesting way–Don’t just say the person has blue eyes. Describe the eyes as “dirty blue eyes” which tells you something about the person making the observation as well as the person being described
  4. Pay attention to your word choices— She quotes Mark Twain who says the difference between lightning and lightning bug is one word, but the addition of that one little word makes a huge difference.
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