Author Toolbox

Three Roles to Avoid When Creating Characters #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #Writetip

It’s time for another posting of the Author Toolbox Blog Hop.

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every character is born in your imagination

As writers, we know that we need to write good characters. Story, plot – it is all important. But characters, they are why people come back. I’ve looked at writing characters before: Writing Characters: A Case Study. That was a longish post with loads of info you had to take in. Today, I’m keeping it short.

Role 1: The Besotted Writer

The newest of your characters is shiny and perfect. Flawless comes to mind when you think of this character. She can run marathons and cook a seven course dinner while always looking perfectly groomed. You’re besotted.

You start writing the story in which your new, awesome character will be starring. And then you realise the story is boring. Why? Your MC is just too good to be true. Like the guy you met online/in the fresh produce section/at your best friend’s wedding who isn’t really the perfect combination of Stephen Hawking, Lord Byron and Ryan Reynolds…

ryan reynolds
Ryan Reynolds. Image credit.

Role 2: The Dr. Frankenstein Wannabe

The good news: you’re no longer wearing rose-tinted glasses. The bad news: you’re probably going to act like a surgeon-Dr.Frankenstein-hybrid and add personality traits to your MC to make her more relatable.

Turning the marathon-running-thing into a way for your character to escape isn’t a bad thing. Turning her into a marathon-running, gym-obsessed bulimic who cooks delicious meals only to punish herself while the point of the novel is for her to save the world from aliens made of vodka… Perhaps is could’ve worked if the (speedster) aliens were made of chocolate and she wanted to catch them and eat them before throwing up… Even then the character traits wouldn’t be quite believable. Unless the point of the novel is to change her in a character-driven story, and not an action-packed save-the-world type.

Which brings me to the third role you shouldn’t assume: the puppet-master.

Role 3: The Puppet-Master

The MC described above can’t save the world from any kind of alien until she herself is okay. She has to figure out her issues – she can’t just take off and eat all the aliens. So to fix her, to get over whatever is chasing her to be so unhealthily body-conscious, the way to get rid of the aliens cannot be her consuming them. The plot twists have to come naturally to the MC. You cannot force it.

So what is chasing this MC? To find the answer, you have to become a private detective and interview everyone she knows (family, friends, co-workers, gym buddies, etc.), read her private diary (if she’s the kind to keep a diary), stalk her online and dig through her garbage until you know every minuscule detail of her life.

I know, I know. It sounds like a lot of effort. But the reward… By the time you’ve finished the first draft of your novel, your character would’ve revealed herself to you even more because you took the time to get to know her.

Of course, being a PI won’t be enough to make the story itself believable. If your MC is the next Katy Perry, you need to know everything there is to being a singer – voice techniques and exercise; the language musicians use; and whatever it is a pop star has to do to get from unknown to a world phenomenon. It’s going to take more than twenty minutes on Google. It’s a lot of work – even if your MC is only going to be an ordinary school teacher.

But it will make your MC and her world tangible and memorable. Your characters invite you to get to know them, so do it! And don’t forget to put effort into writing your villains: they have an interesting story too.

How about you: are you besotted with your characters? Are you obsessively adding traits to a character to make her interesting? Are you pushing a recovering bulimic to eat aliens made of chocolate?

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22 thoughts on “Three Roles to Avoid When Creating Characters #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #Writetip”

  1. One of my beta readers told me the MC of my last two titles was too nice. He was certainly flawed – insecure, self-doubting, not valuing himself enough, as well as talented in other areas – a balance – but the analysis was correct. In determining why, I discovered a backstory point that was already there that could explain why he didn’t express anger, and built on that so that his final step into full maturity and self-awareness was to explode at another character.

  2. Haha! I loved the alien-eating bit.
    Characters are easiest to write when they are based on personal experiences or people in one’s life. I know it sounds cliched but it just works so well!

  3. I love how you said that you need to be a private detective investigating your characters. I really believe that. All our characters are up to something they don’t want people to know. You need to follow them — not only through all the interesting events — but the normal day stuff too, in order to understand them. Through this, we can find out what they take for granted — and then take it away from them.

  4. I write extensive character sketches before I even begin outlining, much less drafting, and yet I always discover lots more about the characters during the creation of draft one. They get so opinionated!

  5. Excellent examples of characters and your photos of them were right on. I wish I could find photos that fit my blog posts so well. I love it when I think I know my character and then an epiphany hits with a brand new-to-me way of how she’d handle a situation. Thanks for sharing.
    JQ Rose

    1. You’re welcome 🙂 Most images I use are from Pixabay — I just enter a couple of keywords and filter through the images until I get the right one. Unsplash and DeviantArt are also great (remember to credit images).

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