In fiction writing, there’s perhaps no more important thing to consider than your characters. Yes, you need a plot. Nobody’s arguing that plot’s not important, but I think characters are even MORE important to any story.
And your characters know they’re important. So, sit down and take a minute to find out the seven things they really want you to know before you start (or finish) that next novel.
1 – I have my own looks and personality.
You may be thinking of your mom, dad, sister, or your fourth grade teacher when you create me, but do I really look like them?
No, I don’t. I don’t sound or act like them either.
I don’t really look, sound, or act like you either. Shocker! I know you kind of want me to be your little Mini-Me, but I can’t do that. I can’t be you; I have to be me.
You need to know what I look like, by the way. You don’t need to write every detail into the book. Leave something up to the readers’ imaginations. But you need to know every detail, so you can include it if you need to. And, for goodness’ sake, keep track of the details somehow. Don’t give me a distinctive limp in the first chapter, only to have it disappear by the third (unless I was limping because I sprained my ankle or something, and that injury healed).
2 – I know my name, even if you don’t.
You have a name. Well, so do I. And if you listen long enough, I just might tell you what it is. You don’t have to look through baby name books or the phone book. Just listen. I’ll tell you what my name is, and I might just tell you before you’re ready to write my story.
Let me apologize ahead of time for that. I understand how annoying that can be, but just imagine how annoying it is to sit around waiting for your story to be told. It’s no fun at all. Trust me.
Oh, and if you still think you need some help to come up with my name, this is a pretty neat little tool, and it’s totally free to use.
3 – If you don’t know where I’ve been, you can’t really know where I’m going.
You weren’t just born today, were you? No, I didn’t think so. I wasn’t either. I have a past; I have a life history. And that life history might just be driving me to do what I’m doing right now, at the beginning of this story. Most certainly, it’s going to affect what I do at some point in the story. And how will you know when that happens, if you don’t know what my backstory is?
You can try to figure it out on your own, or you can wait till I open up and tell you, but you have to learn about it at some point. And, just like my appearance, keep track of what that backstory is. Don’t forget it. I know I can’t.
4 – You don’t have control over this story.
I don’t care if you’ve plotted out every single scene of this story before you ever started writing it, you’re not in as much control of it as you think you are.
I’m on the page. I’m moving and talking and doing things that might just throw your perfect little plot diagram for a big, irretrievable loop. That’s okay. Don’t be afraid to let it go. Our story will be better for it. I promise.
5 – You can’t make me fall in love with that person.
So, you’ve decided to put me in the middle of a big romance. That’s great. Everybody loves to fall in love, right? But you can’t force me to fall in love with just anybody. You didn’t, did you?
This kind of goes along with that previous point. You’re not in charge of this story; I am. If that person isn’t right for me, it’s not going to happen, no matter how perfectly that would make things flow. I don’t care about your organized plot/character development. I care about me, which means I’m only going to fall in love with who I want to fall in love with. Which brings me to…
6 – Sometimes I’m going to say things you don’t want me to.
I have a confession to make. Sometimes I use bad language, even if you (or your potential readers) don’t want me to.
Like, if I’m telling someone her husband’s been gunned down as an act of wartime revenge, leaving her to raise three young children by herself, I’m probably going to swear. I do that when I’m frustrated. And it’s probably going to offend someone – maybe many people. But I just can’t avoid it. I can’t stop it; it just slips out.
You can try to erase it or water it down to try to make it more acceptable to people’s sensibilities, but it’s not going to work. It won’t feel natural, and your readers will know it. Just wait and see.
7 – I like a challenge. No, I NEED a challenge.
Think about your life – the happy moments, the good moments …. Now think about some of the bad ones – the ones that practically ripped your heart out and made it difficult to breathe. Which ones did you learn the most from? After which ones did you grow the most having experienced them? The tough ones, right? That’s what I’m talking about.
Conflict is important to the story – to any story, because it makes characters grow. I want that. I need it. So, throw me into those tough situations, and see how long it takes me to get out of them. Watch how I learn from them and turn myself and my story into something unforgettable.
Thanks for taking the time to listen to me. I look forward to meeting again in the pages of our story.