Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fiction: Character With a Zing

Bob has to be great; he has to snatch your readers’ attention (and keep it) almost immediately. It’s essential for good fiction, and a must for great, memorable fiction.

But getting Bob to be all you want him to be isn’t the easiest task, is it? In fact, it’s one of the most difficult you’ll have to accomplish in writing your story. You may have a terrific plot, excellent writing style and know how to write incredible descriptions...BUT, if Bob doesn’t entertain, stir the emotions, or tickle your readers’ fancies, your book or short story won’t do nearly as well.

I say this as a writer, and an avid reader: there have been many books that I really enjoyed at first—the plot line was original, and the descriptions beautiful—but I couldn’t sympathize with, enjoy, or sometimes, even understand Bob, because he was flat, boring and uninteresting. Trust me, Bob will make, or break, your story. Making Bob life-like and original is the key to attracting readers, so GET HIM RIGHT!!

And the way to do that is: to determine who Bob is as a person.

Yes, this is the most difficult, yet critical step to getting your book off the ground. I know from experience that if you can’t anticipate Bob’s next move, it will often be a hindrance, and even a severe problem, (though there are exceptions), even if you have a specific plotline to follow. I can’t over emphasize it enough: KNOW BOB!

Now, having said that, I don’t mean that you have to scrutinize every single tiny detail about him, unless it helps you. Knowing how many centimeters tall Bob is isn’t going to help you figure out what he’ll say to the bad guy (well, in most cases!) Don’t over-do it; it shouldn’t be a burden for you to write about him. I personally, have NOT over-scrutinized my character, and it allows freedom for him to flower and develop in my mind, without causing panic because he said or did something different than I expected.

a) Give him a history.

You are going to know Bob better than anyone else; readers won’t know anything about him until you tell them, so know his back-story. You’ll need to know the details of things like: a death in the family, a football accident he had, or whatever life situations you give him in order to make him alive, and to keep your readers’ interest up. Know how life has affected him, and how he dealt with it, which will also affect the next point.

b) Know his motivations and emotional status.

Ok, we have to admit it. There’s a common misconception out there that male characters are supposed to lack emotion and be big, tough and controlling. But, we in real life know this is not the case. We’re all human, and we all have emotions, whether we like it or not.

SO, even if Bob is not normally the emotional type, you as the author still need to know what he is thinking and feeling during different scenes. You may not want or need to tell your readers what he’s feeling, but you need to know his motivation, or he’ll go_________________--flat as the Sahara.

c) Know how he interacts with people around him.

This coincides with the above as well; determine whether Bob is outgoing, a wallflower, generous, quick-tempered, studious, creative, dull, hard working, cowardly, whatever you want, but figure out his general attitude towards things and people. Again, don’t overdo it; leave him some breathing room to grow and mature in your mind, but have a general idea of his personal feelings toward life. Don’t suffocate him, but have some expectations as to what he’ll do next.

So, there are a few little tips on how to make your characters more life-like and sympathetic to your readers. I hope it helps you out, and that your Bob, Mark, Kate, Liz, whoever, turns out just the way you want them!

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