I am a plot-driven reader and writer. I enjoy a story where exciting things happen. A strong plot makes readers turn pages, but describing a series of events without relating them to the human experience soon becomes boring. For a novel to hold a reader’s attention for 75k+ words, the story must come alive in the reader’s mind.
Well-developed characters are the key to bringing a story to life. When readers connect with a character, they keep turning pages.
To achieve reader connection, characters must be believable: likable yet flawed, consistent yet changeable. Readers must understand why the main character acts as she does, and even feel they might respond similarly in the same circumstances.
Books and writing courses suggest many intricate systems for developing rounded, relatable characters, but every writer will have a different approach.
I dislike systems; I create characters organically. For me, the plot comes first. The “what” of the story becomes entrenched in my head, and I create characters to fill roles as I need them. The plot of Dragon’s Fire, for example, was established before I started considering “who” should carry the story, and the villain and the dragons developed next. Ciara and I spent three days experimenting with various scenes and situations before she filled out and took her place in the cast and the story. The other supporting characters came to life as I needed them.
Each main character begins with a goal (often external) and a flaw or physical challenge that prevents her from reaching that goal. Each protagonist develops around her story problem. Ciara wanted to learn what the Dragon’s Fire was and was tasked with guarding it, but her difficulty with decision-making hindered her—not to mention caves full of dragons!
The characters grow throughout the drafting process, and they become close friends to me during that time. Most of the main characters share some traits with me or with someone I’m close to. They live in my head, though I often project them into the room so I can see them. (The powers of hyperphantasia!) We hold conversations, and in that way, they take on dimension and form, unfolding their dreams, desires, and histories. I often rewrite scenes in later drafts when I’ve learned more about a character or her backstory, and I need to change or deepen her character arc.
I weave introspection and description into the action—I dislike dwelling too long on anything that slows the story’s progression.
Experts recommend getting to know characters thoroughly before beginning to write. I prefer to insert my characters into a story and see what they do. Planning everything about them ahead of time feels contrived and cardboard. Therefore, characters often surprise me with unexpected information about themselves mid-story, but that makes the drafting process more fun. I enjoy learning about them as I go.
Despite me starting my stories with a plot, my characters take over by the middle, introducing new ideas and sending the action skewering off in whatever direction they choose. This mutiny has sometimes occurred as early as page ten. Book Ten’s middle looks nothing like what I plotted. But when the unexpected happens, the story and the characters grow like two vines intertwining as they climb a trellis, becoming one inseparable unit.
I’ve been studying fiction writing over the past couple of years, and what I’m learning is improving my work. However, I don’t foresee myself changing my character development techniques. I love getting to know new friends as their story grows.
To summarize, I don’t have a formula that guarantees a character will resonate with readers. A character that one reader loves, another might hate. But I’ve had a lot of feedback from readers who have bonded with my characters, with descriptions including “unforgettable,” “endearing,” “enchanting,” and “amazing,” so I must be doing something right.
I love them all.
Check out my interview with blogger Fiona Mcvie! https://wp.me/p3uv2y-75n