So which is more important- the characters or the plot?
Both have to be compelling to keep a reader interested. The plot needs to be page turning but if the readers have no interest in the characters then they won’t be bothered to turn those pages.
I have a set of principles about main characters that I like to follow. There has to be a starting point with the character’s personality. What particular traits do they have? These shouldn’t be introduced all at once. The reader should get to know them gradually, the same as they would a living person.
They have to have weaknesses. What is their Achilles heel? What will the antagonist be able to use against them? All great characters have flaws and they make mistakes. That’s why we love them so much. They come unstuck at times which makes for a great plot.
Moving on from their weaknesses, how can they be taken advantage of? How can their defects of character be used against them? Have they made a mistake in the past that will come back to haunt them? These are the things that will really ramp up the reader’s interest.
Throughout the story, we need to see the main character change. What realisations have they made about themselves that will make them act differently? What are they doing now that they didn’t do at the beginning of the novel?
How are they going to fight back when they going gets tough? What challenges will they face when the change is tested? Finally, at the end of the novel what is their new perspective? What have they learnt about themselves or about life?
It is important that minor characters are also brought to life. Whilst the reader won’t get to know them in the same way,, they can still steal the show with their idiosyncrasies.
12 steps for defining character
- Name them
When naming characters don’t use the same first initial for more than one character as it often confuses the reader, as does having too large a cast. Unless each character has a separate, well-defined voice, it is hard to tell them apart. Don’t forget nicknames and don’t have rhyming names such as Polly and Dolly. Finally, make sure the character name fits the personality.
If there is a back story, think about how the character would have acted at that age as opposed to now. Don’t forget to include events and customs synonymous with the era.
Describe your character from hair and eye colour, height, body shape, distinguishing features, clothes.
These could be anything from the car they drive to whether they smoke. Make sure these fit into their personality.
Do they have an accent? Are they educated?Do they swear or have a pet phrase? How do they speak? Are they confident conversationalists?
Are they optimistic, happy, adventurous? What is their basic temperament?Are they moody, quiet, mean? Are they romantic, hard working, sensitive?Do they care about others?What are their fears? Are they nervous and insecure? This list could go on indefinitely but it is important to define at least three characteristics before you start to write about them.
7. Likes and dislikes
What are their hobbies?What sort of music do they like? What do they read, east, cook? What is their most treasured possession?
Who are they close to and who do they come into contact with? This could be parents. grandparents, siblings, children, lovers, friends, acquaintances, neighbours, pets, enemies. How does this character interact with each of these individuals?
Where do they live? what type of house?What kind of neighbourhood? How long have they lived there? do they like it?
How do they earn their living? Do they enjoy it? How do they unwind?Is there anything else they are goof at, any hidden talents?
What was their past like? Are there any skeletons hidden in their cupboard?
How do they fit into the novel? What do they want? Why do they want it? How will they go about getting it?
By taking the trouble to get to know your characters, it will make the job of writing your novel do much easier. Scenarios will no doubt pop up around aspects of their life that will fit into your plot