Tag Archives: characters

Writing Characters People Care About

1 Nov

I’m generally reluctant to blog about the craft of writing, mostly because I feel like ‘Who am I to tell others what works and what doesn’t?’ I’m no Stephen King (whose book On Writing every writer should read!)  But, as one of my wise professors used to say, “I teach in the area in which I most need to learn”. He knew that we internalize learning best when we share it with others.  So, in that spirit, read or ignore the following ramblings as you like…

Character – What Does It Mean Anyway?

Isn’t it funny how the word ‘character’ is used in conversation to mean very different things?  On one hand we say “He’s a man of character,” which means we agree with his values or morals.  On the other hand, we say, “Isn’t he a character?” by which we mean he’s naughty but we like him anyway.  Unless, of course, you’re from the South and you say, “He’s a character, all right, bless his heart,” which means we don’t like him or we don’t approve of him, but we have to say it in a politely passive-aggressive way, you see, because that’s what we do.

Care About vs. Love

The interesting thing is that any of the above meanings can translate into writing a character people care about.  Notice I did not say a character people love.  You need characters that people don’t always love to make a story fulfilling.  This provides tension which is so necessary for a story we just can’t put down. You need both the yin and the yang in your story to make it work.  Sometimes the yin and yang are even within the same character.  The best books in my opinion are the ones where both the protagonist and the antagonist have qualities we empathize with, and those we self-righteously judge, just in different measures.

Avoiding Meh…

Spice, anyone?

Spice, anyone?

As writers, when we get feedback about our characters that they aren’t likeable, our knee-jerk reaction can be to take away all the ‘bad’ stuff – the snarkiness, the depressed outlook, or even too much perkiness (as in, I don’t like this character because she’s always perky and that makes me feel bad about my life).  Though there might be some over-the-top elements you could polish a little bit, if you take away all the ‘bad’ stuff and you have nothing left, you have, well…nothing. Instead, add some dimension by giving them behaviors or motivators that are contrary to what already exists.

Finding the Right Balance

I like to think of it like cooking.  While it is possible to have too much spice, usually it is the lack of balance that ruins the dish. There’s a funny commercial out now, where a couple is in a Chinese restaurant and someone has left the sweet out of their sweet and sour dish. Don’t take out all the sour – what you’ll be left with is bland.  Here are some examples of sweet and sour character types I like:

  • The snarky teen who is uber-snarky to his parents but kind to his kid sister because, frankly, the parents kind of suck and he feels she deserves better
  • The hyper-driven type A who initially appears 100% confident, but who we learn is motivated by fear of abandonment
  • The wimpy kid who won’t stand up for himself but will for his friend

So, that’s it, my thoughts on character that I will try – try, I tell you – to keep in mind as I continue plowing through my current WIP.

How about you?  How do you find the right balance and create characters people care about?

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