Lessons to Practice #3: Developing Strong Characters

Hello again! How was everyone’s weekend? I thank you all for your patience and understanding in waiting for my next blog post. I spent Thursday through Sunday at a winter training camp put on by my very own triathlon coaches here in town. It was a great test of my mental and physical fortitude, and I’m glad I gave each day my all! I’m excited to see how this high-intensity training will help me to perform well at my first race of the season, the Cowtown Half-Marathon, which I’ll be running this coming Sunday. Expect a photo or two on my blog!

cowtown-2015

Today I’ve been mulling over what makes a character great. In my own creative writing, the two most important aspects of my stories have been (1) clearly conveying my unique voice, and (2) developing extremely well-rounded characters who are both dynamic and easy for readers to relate to. In order to further expand my tool set for crafting compelling characters, I turned once again to Paula Munier’s book Writing with Quiet Hands. What does the Senior Literary Agent and Content Strategist of Talcott Notch Literary Services have to say about character development?

First, Paula writes that the most important question in crafting any story is What if? “What if my protagonist survived a school shooting?” “What if my antagonist spoke to reason with my hero and threatened to bring him over to the dark side?” “What if my supporting character was suddenly no longer there in my main character’s time of greatest need?” These are the intriguing questions that spur on not only our own creativity, but also pique our reader’s interest right away. What happens to our characters must be dramatic, immediate, and compel them to make the most challenging decisions of their lives.

george-r-r-martin

Don’t be afraid to “kill your darlings,” either!

In chapter seven of Quiet Hands, Paula writes that the most compelling and memorable characters challenge and engage the majority of readers on many levels, including the mental, spiritual, and psychological fronts. They should also be very fleshed out, especially the main characters, as they propel the story forward. No detail is too small; give every character a full back story!

I love Paula’s exercise in which she asks us to create a “Hero Checklist,” listing information about our characters such as their IQ, hobbies, physical quirks, family history, personal goals, and, of course, their darkest secrets. I took her advice to heart in writing my latest series The Virility Project by creating “Character Manifestos.” In each manifesto, I’ve listed each of my character’s ages, family history, traits, strengths, weaknesses, action tags (i.e., their physical habits and key behaviors that they exhibit), and their dialogue tags (e.g., sayings that they repeat, important sentences that they utter which hit on the themes of my story). I have found this activity to be extremely rewarding in giving each person a rich and interesting life. Voilà!

How about you? What are some tricks of the trade that you use to breathe life into your own characters?

 

2 thoughts on “Lessons to Practice #3: Developing Strong Characters

  1. For me, the most important element of a compelling character is that they make interesting, unique decisions that propel the plot (I wrote about this a few months ago here: https://jedhernewriter.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/the-most-important-trait-of-compelling-protagonists/ ). Characters who make meaningful and interesting decisions stick in readers minds, which I feel is the essence of what makes a character ‘good’. Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Jed! You make such a great point; characters who make tough and pivotal choices are extremely compelling. Especially if I as the reader would be very hesitant to make that same choice.

      Like

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