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Crafting Characters That Are Essential to Your Plot

There is a simple method for determining if you have enough characters in your novel or if you have too many. And that’s by scrutinizing each character in relation to your plot.

For example, in the movie Dragonfly, Joe Darrow, a doctor who lost his wife, has a next-door neighbor, Miriam, a woman who is a lawyer and who lost a child in death. She is a friend and ally who is also a voice of reason and encouragement to Joe. She presses him to go on a rafting trip, to sell his house, to get help when he’s losing it. She proverbially holds his hand and supports him when no one else will. No other character in the movie has that role or can take it on.

The story needs her character. Joe needs her. Because, without her, he would not follow the clues that lead him to where he must go to get the answers he needs about his wife’s death. Her presence not only reflects the kind of person that might normally be found in real life, it also is used to move the plot forward. If all Miriam did in the movie was wave hi and look sad every time she saw Joe, her appearance in the story would be filler and useless. Pay attention to that.

If three characters served basically the same role as Miriam, that would clutter the story—hence why experienced authors suggest rolling multiple characters with redundant or overlapping roles into one character. Continue Reading…

Fashioning Characters Based on Plot and Premise

When I think about the many novels I’ve written, I realize I don’t always start with a plot idea. Sometimes a topic or theme intrigues me, or I’ll have an image of a character in the throes of a moral dilemma.

I remember reading about how C. S. Lewis came up with his Narnia series. He had a picture in his mind of a faun carrying a parcel and an umbrella through a snowy wood. From there, the The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe sprang into existence.

The novel I’m currently writing, a supernatural thriller called Lightning Man, also was sparked by a picture in my head. I saw a man at the top of a mountain, his arms outstretched in a kind of messianic surrender to the heavens, willing lightning to strike him for the tenth time, intending to stop a terrorist by sacrificing his life as he grips the bad guy. From there I had to ask a lot of questions to find my story, and I encourage you to do the same with the ideas that excite you.

I wove a complex plot around that character and climactic moment I saw in my head (it’s taken me a couple of years, but it’s all in place now). But it all started with a picture of a nebulous character.

For my novel Someone to Blame, I started with a word or concept: blame. I wanted to explore the ways people blame themselves and others and the damage and hurt blame causes. From that germ of an idea, a plot developed—a story about a family who’ve suffered the loss of two sons and moved to a new town hoping to start over, only to get drawn into a heavy drama that mires the town in blame and subsequent danger.

In my conversations with numerous best-selling authors, I’ve learned that their story ideas are sparked in a myriad of ways.

Though ideas for stories begin in different ways, all roads lead to one key question: Who is this story about and what is that character’s journey? Continue Reading…

How to Breathe Life into Your Characters

Today’s guest post is by author Morgan St. James.

Many novice writers find it  tempting to simply string together a word laundry list to describe a character’s physical attributes or their behavior in routine or off-the-chart situations. Some go a little beyond dry description and use inner thoughts to pump up the situation.

That can represent a pitfall if not used with discretion. I recently read a book that would have really been good but for the excessive use of inner dialogue—an average of at least three or four per chapter. It is better to create characters with feelings, emotions and a physical presence.

One of the most important qualities a fictional character can possess is to seem real to the reader.

Creating characters doesn’t have to be daunting. It is important to remember that the reader sees events through the eyes of the players in the story. Unless it is critical to a specific character, avoid populating your story with characters who are devoid of emotion. Characters that seem like a bunch of paper dolls reading from a script.

On the other hand, it’s easy to get carried away with creating overblown figures. Strive to strike a balance. Continue Reading…

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