Every book has a Big Three: Characters, Setting, and Plot. Each of these elements influences what the story becomes. Change any of them, and the book alters dramatically.
Characters are a tremendous driving force in a story. They can shape the direction of a plot when they respond differently than you had expected to an event. Invariably, my characters take over entirely, and my carefully crafted plotlines are abandoned as strong personalities steer the story where they want it to go. Inevitably, the story ends up better than my original plan for it.
Sometimes, a character forms in my head and has a story written around them. Other times, as a story is developing, characters get created and plugged into the plot as they are needed. Usually, a combination of both those methods comes into play. Occasionally, a minor character tells me they have a story of their own. This happened with James Grenleigh—who launched my series, really, because I wasn’t planning a sequel to Rose until he spoke up.
What goes into creating an unforgettable character? A lot. Every major character—the protagonist, the villain, and any secondary characters with a significant role—must have layers. They need likes and dislikes, things they are good at and things they are not, different personality traits and moods. Characters should be relatable—readers should be able to identify with some aspect of the personality or motivation of at least a few of the characters. When this doesn’t happen, reader disconnect occurs—the reader simply won’t enjoy the book as much as they otherwise might have.
Every major character has a backstory, some of which will make it into the text and most of which won’t. The secret of the backstory is to include what’s necessary and interesting without bogging the story down.
Every character must have motivation. People don’t go around doing things for no reason—neither should characters. There should be an instigating factor that forces them to act or a payoff for an action they choose to perform.
Each major character must have desires, goals, and a method to achieve them. Whether or not that method will be successful is the main thread of the plot. The main characters must grow and change as the story progresses—sometimes they improve, and sometimes they degenerate. And everyone, even when their goals conflict, must believe that what they are doing is right.
Each character’s relationship to the protagonist is vital, since everyone, including the villain, is there to enhance the protagonist’s story. Main characters drive the plot. Secondary characters must support the hero or the villain. A minor character is like an extra in a movie—an unnamed body in the room: a soldier, a servant, a villager.
As I develop characters, I pay careful attention to their
My characters become very real to me. I become friends with them, and they live on in my head long after their story is told. In upcoming blogs, I’ll share some character sketches from the series, along with 1st-person perspectives from some of the major characters and details that weren’t included in the books. Stay tuned!
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