What makes a good book?
Is it plot line, or prose? Is it funny or smart anecdotes along the way?
It is, and it isn’t, all of these things, plus a bit more. You need a good plot, and you need to have a decent prose. At the least, you should be able to write good enough to know the basic rules. Adverbs are hell, personification is to be used lightly; dialogue tags should be simple – and all that other jazz you hear people discuss.
Some funny and smart anecdotes don’t hurt, as it can be used to show the character, which is what we’re getting into today. It’s what I find makes the difference between a bad book with good plot, and just a plain awesome book.
That’s right people. We’re having a group meeting. Gather all your characters and let’s talk about who they are, and how a good character can make or break a story.
DO: Give Your Character Room to be themselves – Hey, characters are people too. Albeit, they are fictional people, but they are still to be treated as real people if your audience is going to relate to them. As real people, they need space, and room to be themselves. Don’t force your character to be something they’re not, based on what you think they should be. Let them live, dammit!
Please elaborate, Mr. Gainer. You sound like a mad-man.
Ok, I will.
When you’re writing your story, you might randomly write in a trait, or action without intent. It may not be something you originally planned for that particular character. You’re likely going to feel the urge to change it back to what you want, or what you outlined. You should ignore that urge.
The most powerful writing comes from an empty mind, and when your character steps out of the box in a fashion you didn’t expect, a relaxed and empty mind is often why. You’re letting the story be itself. You’re giving it a reality for people to relate to.
Unless it completely throws off your story, don’t edit those parts out. Of course, if it does throw off the story, perhaps you should think of how realistic your original plot line is. Our characters can teach us things about what we’re writing that we didn’t see before. If you listen to them, they may improve your story. They are the ones involved, after all; the ones you have met in the place we go to when we write. You should write them as they are, because although you can sense what they sense, they are the ones who are deep within the action. You’re role is to be the observer, and write down what they like, notice, think, or sense. Not your perception of the situation, but theirs, as they will rarely be the same as your characters.
DON’T: Flood the Reader with Backstory – Let the actions of your character speak for themselves, and only input backstory whenever necessary. A little spice is nice, if the thought process heads toward a certain event from your character’s memory, then it can be ok to write it in. It gives your character depth, and brings them closer to our reality.
Unfortunately, if you throw it at the reader, especially during times that they don’t expect it, it ruins the character. They’re not showing who they are as they tell a particular back story, and that’s a problem. Keep the back story related to the current situation, and keep it light. It will help your character prove to your reader that they’re the real deal.
DO: Draw from real life – Afraid you’re going to piss off your aunt, uncle, friend, cousin, or all of the above?
Don’t sweat it.
People are people, and where you learn their traits and behaviors is dependent upon your situation. You need to look at real people, so whoever you’re around is usually the easiest to draw character traits from. But don’t draw from your social circle alone, in fact, do so seldomly. The best character traits come from looking at a diverse background of people. Meet and interact with new people, watch what they do (but do so with caution, you don’t want to appear like a stalker, or creep) and, I know this is rude, but eavesdrop on conversations so you can learn how people actually talk.
Over time, you will learn how to do this naturally, and the character traits you draw from these many different people can help you create characters. Mix them together; do a rough replication, or, what I suggest, is that you create your very own. After listening, observing and interacting, you will have learned new behaviors, and they will naturally flow into your piece, birthing a unique character. Learn as many behaviors and traits as you can in real life, or else you will just be recreating the same dull characters over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over….
(See how bad repetition is?)
DON’T: Create the Perfect Character – Most of us have seen a movie or two in our lives (one should hope) and of those movies, you sometimes see the cookie cutter, perfect character we all wish we could be. They’re pretty, they’re smart, they’re strong, and they are overall, one hundred percent perfect. They can do anything. Absolutely anything. If they wanted to claim credit for creating the universe, most of their fictional colleagues would likely vouch, just because these characters are so fucking awesome. They are Gods in their own respective worlds, and every situation seems to wrap up perfectly for them.
Yeah…Don’t create these characters. Don’t even create these types of stories. People are flawed, I shouldn’t need to tell you that. Everyone on this planet is flawed. Even whatever God, or Gods you believe in, has their flaws, whether you like to admit it or not. Everything has flaws. Even the things we perceive as being perfect on the outside are deeply distorted on the inside.
DON’T: Make Your Character Whiny – You can break this rule, but once in a while and only in short spurts. Very, very, short spurts. Because like it or not, some people are whiny. Your readers, however, would like it if your characters complained less. Don’t sigh a lot, don’t whine in the prose about every situation (you will lose emphasis when a real shit storm brews), and don’t have your character over analyze every event. It will make them appear whiny, and it makes them difficult to root for. It also floods the reader in unnecessary text. They won’t hate your character for it. That’s all on you, my story writing friend.
#1 DO: Be Real, Man – To summarize, just be real. Don’t force your story or characters to be anything that they aren’t. Allow the flow of the story to proceed naturally, whether you approve of your characters or not. We all have people we like or hate, and your readers opinion, and yours, are sure to be different sometimes, and the same others. Keep it all as real as possible, and you may not please everyone, but it also shows you’re not looking to please everyone. I think that’s much more admirable than forcing a character to be something that’s popular.
In the end, being real with your character, your story, your readers, and yourself, is the best thing you can do. Be yourself, and your writing will have a style that can’t be replicated. It will be, as it should be.
It will be yours, and you, cannot be replicated.
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