Writing Advice

Writing Advice – Characters

Without characters, stories would tell very little. Would you want to pick up a book and find that the whole thing was nothing but a description of a setting, a world, or several planets?

Whether you write sci-fi, fantasy, or romance, your story needs a set of characters. Don’t let the magic, technology, or amazing settings overwhelm your story and take away from its characters.


In A Letter to the Pacific Ocean, I conclude that a world without conflict would mean a world without stories. In order to have conflict, you need characters. Not just any characters will do. When I first started writing, all my characters were copies of me. They came with my likes, my dislikes, and my personality; they were static replicas of me. They fell in love, talked to each other, and did what characters do, but they didn’t make a story because they were all too similar. They didn’t learn from each other, and I didn’t learn from creating them, except that copying myself endlessly didn’t make for exciting reading.

To build good stories, good characters are needed. There’s more than one way to get them. Sometimes you might decide some of their attributes and personality in advance, and other times you might find out as you go along. For me, there’s almost nothing more magical than meeting a new character and finding out what they’re like and how it feels to be inside that person’s head.

Are you having trouble coming up with realistic characters? When this happens to me I deliberately make a character who hates something that I love or vice versa. For example, I love everything, so I might make my character a picky eater and discover what that’s like. It helps to make your characters more natural, and also teaches you things. Maybe you’ll end up researching strategies parents use to get their kids to try new foods, or imagine how that character might feel when presented with a table full of only food they’ve never eaten before.

A variety of interesting characters makes our stories interesting and allows us to go where they go, to venture outside ourselves, and to live for a while in the lives of others. That, I think, is what reading is all about.

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