First thing’s first. Did you guys see I’m advance reading Ted Dekker’s The 49th Mystic? I’m only a couple chapters in so far, but my goodness it’s already amazing! You’ll all definitely have to get a copy when it comes out in May. And that should give you plenty of time to read Mynidd beforehand. ;-)
Today, we return to our series on the tenants of writing—and today, we’re talking about one that you definitely have to at least start before you’ve begun writing your story.
Defining Your Characters
See, the characters are the big things that draw people into our stories, that make people want to continue reading our stories and attach themselves to the lore we create. Most readers will tell you that if your characters are flat, it’s far more difficult to read a story. For myself, I struggle to read any book where the characters are pointless and lifeless. If I can’t get attached to somebody, it’ll take me at least twice as long to read the book—if I even make it all the way through at all.
First thing’s first though.
You need to decide what kind of characters you’re writing. Is this a story about a plucky guy or a mouthy girl? Why? Your setting and world building should help to shape your decisions in this area, if you’re struggling with it.
The point is, this is where you need to start making some big decisions. Decide who your main character is. What do they look like? Where do they live? What do they do for a living? Why is this story focusing on them? What makes them unique or special? What do they want? What do they need? Why should your readers want to know about them?
These are things you need to know before you start writing your novel. If you don’t know your character, then it’ll be a struggle for you as you’re writing, to discover what the story is really about.
After all, it’s character that really drives story forward.
Now, as you all know, I’m a seat-of-your-pants kind of writer. I don’t outline. So I know how difficult it is to make yourself sit down and work out who your characters are before you write the story. I know that. But I’m not telling you that you need to know everything about them. I’m telling you that you need to know something, and you can figure the rest out along the way.
5’8”, long brown hair w/golden highlights, brown doe eyes, oval face, average build
Wears tee shirts and jeans whenever she can, but has to wear a skirt to the office
Lives in an apartment in downtown New York, barely makes the rent
Works as a paralegal for some firm in the city
Wants to get out of the city and live a real life, but doesn't know what real life is
Needs money to make that happen, but all her money is going to rent and somewhere else she hasn’t told me yet
Always looking over her shoulder, like she’s afraid of something. Her friends think she’s just a little skittish
Now, I just made that up on the spot, but you can see the picture. I’ve gotten a basic idea of who Michelle is, and I’ve made note of a few things I don’t know about her yet. You can also go into details about her family, siblings, education, and general life if you think that’ll help you in starting your story (honestly, more often than not, it will).
The point is, make sure you’ve at least defined your primary character a little bit, before you really get into your novel.
You’ll thank me later.
p.s. If you want to know more about how to make your characters like real people, check out this month's series in the RAD Blog!