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Brilliant or Boring? How Do Your Characters Measure Up?

When critiquing manuscripts, I often wonder how much time writers spend thinking about the personality types of their characters. Because so many characters are either stereotyped, shallow, or boring.

I’ve written a lot about characters and explained that ordinary people are boring. While we want to populate our stories with believable characters, we should avoid ordinary and boring—at least with our protagonist. You might have a minor character who is irritatingly boring to your protagonist, and that character might have a great role in the story.

But you don’t want to bore your readers with flat, uninteresting characters. I hope you can see the difference.

What’s “Larger Than Life”?

You may have heard that fiction writers should create characters who are “larger than life.” That’s a bit puzzling because in life there are all types. How is one “larger” than another? And you don’t want to go to the extremes of hyperbole or exaggeration with all your characters. If you do so, your novel will be a parody of life, not a slice of life (though, if you are aiming for parody and great humor, that’s fine). Continue Reading…

Why Your Protagonist  Should Have a Past “Wound”

Last week I introduce the idea that writers need to know some important things about their protagonist before starting to write their scenes. Some writers hardly develop their characters at all, and it shows. Their scenes are populated with stereotypes that have no depth or uniqueness.

Conversely, spending hours or weeks penning long descriptions of characters’ physical attributes, food preferences, or general likes and dislikes won’t ensure memorable characters will result.

The first thing—which we looked at in last week’s post—that’s essential to consider about your protagonist is his motivation. And this attribute, like all the others we’re going to look at in this series of posts, points to your premise. And that premise centers on the protagonist’s goal.

So, if everything you consider about your characters orbits around the premise and the goal, you’ll be on your way to crafting great characters. Continue Reading…

The First Thing You Should Know about Your Protagonist before You Start Writing

Most fiction writers know that character is at the heart of a story. Whether you are writing short or long fiction, you need terrific characters.

But what’s in a character? And how much do you need to know about your characters before you start writing?

The depth of detail you develop for your characters may vary. It stands to reason that you aren’t going to put as much work into crafting minor characters as you would major ones. And the most important character—your protagonist—should have the most depth.

How deep should you go? That’s a good question. Some writers spend months working on a character: her looks, her history, her family, her issues. But often the details a writer works up are trivial details. Continue Reading…