Creating Compelling Characters

Plot is key, but not at the expense of character. We’ll go anywhere with a full character but question every move with a thin one.’

Jonny Geller, CEO of literary agency Curtis Brown

Creating unique and memorable characters is a must for every fiction writer. It’s what makes our stories interesting and resonate with the reader.

And for series writers, the strength of our characters is what makes the reader want to come back for more. Plot alone isn’t enough.

So how do you do it?

Come up with a good backstory? Through in a few quirks and a great car?

No.

To create a your readers will fall in love with you need to dig deeper:

1. Really know your character

I’m not just talking about his/her favourite colour or when his/her birthday is. You need to know your character as well as you know yourself.

To quote one of my favourite literary charactersAtticus from To Kill a Mockingbird– you need to:

Climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it

2. Use plot to define your character

Show how your character reacts to a difficult situation. Let your readers see him/her in action.

How someone deals with a problem tells us a lot about them AND it lets you ‘show not tell’ the reader what your character’s made of.

3. Create contradictions

Create interest through contradictions. A vegetarian who wears leather. A Buddhist serial killer. these are extreme examples, but you take the point.

In real life no-one is straight down the middle. Your characters shouldn’t be either.

4. Give your character flaws

It’s tempting to try and create ‘nice’ characters because we want our readers to like them. But actually characters with flaws are much more interesting, especially when those flaws get them into trouble.

Think Thomas Hardy here. His best loved characters were deeply flawed and those flaws ultimately lead to their downfall.

 

Editing Secrets

Three Editing Secrets to Improve Your Manuscript

You’ve done it! After months and months of hard work and sleepless nights, you’ve finally finished your first draft. Time to send it off to agents and publishers? Think again. This is where the hard work really starts.

Now it’s time to go back to your first page and begin all over again. It sounds soul destroying when put like that but actually turning your first draft into a polished manuscript can be the most rewarding part of the writing process.

Here are some tips about how to go about it:

  1. Take a Step Back

To be objective you might want to step away from your novel for a while. This is the time to go on long walks or out for lazy lunches. Not only do you deserve the break, it will also give you the chance to come back to your work with a fresh pair of eyes.

  1. Read Your Manuscript in One Sitting

This may sound daunting but it will enable you to see the bigger picture. Instead of worrying about individual sentences, assess your novel in its entirety. By reading it in one go you’ll spot plot and character inconsistencies as well as passages that need tightening.

  1. Question, Question and Question

Does the novel have a clear beginning, middle and end? Are the characters engaging and three dimensional? Are they driving your plot or vice versa? Is there enough conflict? What does your protagonist want? What are the barriers to them achieving their goal?

By looking at your novel in this way, through the eyes or a reader rather than a writer, you will end up with a manuscript that is nuanced and compelling.

And most importantly by taking the time to edit carefully you’ll end up with a piece of writing you can be truly proud of. Good luck!

Secret to Writing Great Dialogue

Struggling to make your dialogue authentic? Try eavesdropping. On the bus. In restaurants. Standing in line at the check-out. It doesn’t matter where you do it- just make sure you have a notebook handy.

Look for:

  • The pauses between the conversation, and where the speakers pick up and drop off from each other
  • How one person dominates or leads
  • Unusual expressions or contractions
  • How it flows

Earwigging on random conversations is a time-honoured technique used by countless well known writers.

As Charles Haas (screenwriter- Gremlins 2, Matinee and Over the Edge) said:

“I do pay attention to what people are saying. I think it’s a good writing technique because it builds up one’s ear for dialogue and vernacular.”

The most convincing dialogue comes from real people in real situations. By listening to how people talk to each other you can identify different speech patterns and come up with some great lines. Plus, if you’re a bit nosy like me, you can have a lot of fun too!

My favourite eavesdrop came a few weeks ago at a pub in Shepherd’s Bush.

‘I don’t fancy locust, babe,’ a man said into his cell-phone shaking his head and sleeving beer foam off his top lip.

I’ve no idea what they were talking about but I am glad I wasn’t invited round for supper.