Tag Archives: Desires

The 9 Things Your Main Character Needs From You

Character development is one of my favorite things to do when I’m cooking up a new story.

With the development of character, it’s like I’m meeting a new friend who trusts me enough to send me on an adventure. I need my character badly for, without him or her, I don’t have a voice for my story. But my character needs me too. I have the necessities to make them come alive.

These are the nine things my main character needs from me.

A name.

This is obvious, and you can spend a lot of time looking at name meanings and overthink it to the point of ridicule, or you can call your main character Binky and be done with it. If you’re going to give a character a name, make sure that it has a distinct look and sound from the other character names (this is where I make the obligatory grumble to J.R.R. Tolkien for his choices with Sauron/Sauramon.) You also want to make sure that your name is appropriate to the setting. Make sure that it doesn’t have such a freaky spelling that your readers stumble over it. You want to make sure that there aren’t any cultural connotations with it, for example, the name Hillary. 

A general physical appearance, but not a laundry list.

Maybe I’m just lazy and impatient, but I usually skim over an author’s detailed account of their main character. I don’t care about how wide apart their eyes are, their aquiline nose, the ruddiness of their cheeks or that their hair is the red like copper, but not red like the sauce on my taco. I’m of the belief (and it’s because I’m so guilty of this) that the reader creates a mental image of the character in his own way regardless of what the author says. So unless your main character is a hobbit, and it better not be, keep your detailed description to yourself.

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

An archetype.

Before you get all huffy about how archetypes are really just three steps away from a cliche’, let me explain: an archetype is a predictable and recognizable role that your character will play in the story. Example are the mentor, the waif, the professor, the crusader, the swashbuckler, the free spirit, the nurturer. And if you use these archetypes as a foundation for the purpose of your characters, then you’ll better understand what they do in the story and how they relate to the plot as well as the other characters. They will only slip into cliche’ if you choose not to fill them with an interesting backstory, quirks, secrets, fears and mutually exclusive desires.

A family — even if they are all dead.

Even if you rarely mention them. Your character has to have come from somewhere. You will need to understand their family history well, especially if they have tragedy and dysfunction. And really, what’s the point of having a story at all if you can’t give them tragedy and dysfunction? Take the time to sketch out your characters parents, siblings and any other important family members. They have certainly shaped him or her. You need to understand that well. Consider how parents’ afflictions affect their children. Don’t forget birth order. Throw in some poverty for fun.

A skill set.

Everybody can do something. In fact, if your character is really good at one thing, they will be respected by your reader, at least in this area. The only exception to this rule could be children who haven’t grown into them. Before you figure it all out for your character, think about what life skills they rock at. Think about professional skills. What about languages they speak? Their animal whispering, their ability to make the perfect omelet? Think about oddities, like they can pop their shoulder out of its socket. Or maybe they can read minds. Your author’s skill set will distinguish him, so choose well.

“Never annoy an inspirational author or you will become the poison in her pen and the villain in every one of her books.”
Shannon L. Alder

A quirk.

A quirk is something particularly unusual and not necessarily a skill. It could be a dairy allergy or an obsession with border collies. A quirk could be an eccentricity or a lack of eyebrows. By adding a quirk to your characters, you make them more three-dimensional but choose carefully. You don’t want the quirkiness of the quirk to overpower everything else in the story. The quirk, as fun as it is, isn’t enough to make a full character. Choose one that plays nicely with the other characteristics of your character and may even add to the plot.

A lie.

This lie is not something necessarily that they KNOW is a lie. It’s something that they believe that turns out to be false. In the best books it’s the discovery of this lie, about halfway in, that changes the trajectory of the story for our hero. I think the best lies are those that have set the character out on the original quest. He’s seeking his objectives under a solid assumption, then the floor falls out from under him and he discovers he was deceived all along. Oh, if you do this well, your readers will EAT THIS UP!


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A fear.

Now bear with me on this. You don’t want something benign, like a fear of butterflies, you want something that’s really identifiable, like a fear of abandonment, a fear of humiliation, a fear of losing control, a fear of rejection. It’s this fear that’s going to cause your main character to make some serious mistakes, like alienating people or forgetting their big purpose. Everybody has these kinds of fears, even if they don’t realize it. A character’s deepest fear can be the motivation that’s driving them to make the choices that they do. As you’re working on your plot, consider what would happen if their deepest fear was actually realized!

A way to process information.

This is really important. Is your character someone who takes everything literally and for face value? Or is your character someone who can read between the lines, who picks up nuance? Does your character have empathy for others who may or may not get this information? Or does your character hoard information for himself and refuse to share? Is your main character scatterbrained? Impulsive? Indecisive? Inflexible? It’s this type of distinction that can really make your character become real to your readers. Take your time on this one — and consider making your character as different from you as possible!

If you give your character all of these nine things, and you sculpt this out with care and thoughtfulness, you’ll have created someone interesting and worth reading about.


Need help with characters? You may also like,

Five Character Types That Make Great Antagonistic Forces or

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character


 

 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Top 10 Things To Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid

by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Forget about hair color and broad shoulders and kissable lips.

The best stories have characters  that are complex,  well drawn and have such interesting inner and outer struggles that readers can’t help but be fascinated by them.

There are hundreds of ways to develop character, from figuring out their favorite ice cream flavors to starting with an archetype and building on it. This is just one little list to set you thinking.  If you only manage a couple of these, your characters will be more vivid, more interesting and strong enough to carry a reader through your story.

Top 10 Things To Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

1. Give them a secret that you won’t reveal to the readers until halfway through the book. It can be a huge plot twist, like the fact that they are blind or it can be something small, like they have an addiction to reality television. This could also be a habit that they’re ashamed of, a criminal record or an unconfessed sin. The fear of exposure should be a driving force for them.

2. Give them a chronic disease. Now this will require some research on your part, but having some physical limitation or hindrance will not only make them more interesting, but it will also require them to compensate. Do a little homework though, and pick diseases that aren’t overdone by other authors. And don’t forget to research this well. A reader who spots an inconsistency or laziness will not be happy.

“Which of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?”
Cornelia Funke

3. Give them an aversion or irrational fear toward something that is common, like cell phones. A fear like this has to have a cause and it also has to change their behavior in some way. Use this fear against them when the plot thickens, when the antagonist finds out about it, or the love interest can’t understand it.

4.Give them a desire that they don’t even know that they have, like security or acceptance or love. At our core, we all have desires for justice, security, love, and even sometimes vengeance. The best characters touch on this universal desires. Any struggle that your characters have with these big issues will make them more interesting to the reader.

5. Give them a significant other/sidekick/sibling/partner in crime who is their exact opposite in every way. Opposites attract, right? Make your sidekick and other supporting characters different from your main character. Pay attention to the opposing stands they take to the issues and events that your main character faces. This can add some juicy conflict and conflict is what story is all about.

“Character, I think, is the single most important thing in fiction. You might read a book once for its interesting plot—but not twice.”
Diana Gabaldon

6. Give them a significant other/sidekick/sibling/partner in crime who is just like them in every way, only exaggerated. Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Think Frasier Crane and his brother Niles. They were alike in so many ways, but Niles was more exaggerated. This similarity made Frasier look reasonable by contrast. Niles provided much needed comic relief. And together, they were pretty funny.

7. Give them a personality disorder. Don’t know which one? Check this out. Personality disorders are very, very common in real life. And if you know how to write a character who is a clinical narcissist or who is histrionic, then not only  will you get some great conflict, but you’ll also engage the reader. These types are fun to read and write about. In real life, ahem, not so much.

8. Give them a mental list of things that they will not do, ever. If you had a character who had a few OCD tendencies, say, and they wouldn’t wear the color red, say the word moist, walk on one side of the street, allow their food to touch and make their shoes always point north, then you would have an interesting character. Then, of course, put them situations where they must do them. Hehe. That’s the fun of being an author!

“The best books come from someplace deep inside…. Become emotionally involved. If you don’t care about your characters, your readers won’t either.”
Judy Blume

9. Give them a chance to order a pizza with friends. Explain every decision they make doing this. I love this tool. I find once I have created my cast of characters, little exercises like this will allow me to see them in new ways. Make sure that you’ve developed all your characters in such a way that making decisions like this will be easy.

10.Give them five favorite books. One from childhood, one fiction, one non-fiction, one that they would never admit to and one that they often give away as a gift. Why? Our bookshelves speak a lot about us. Think also about your character’s reading habits: Hardcover or Kindle version? A fast reader or a slow reader? Book club member? Audiobook lover? Any specific decisions you make about this will fill your character’s personality and preferences out nicely.

Each of these suggestions are here not necessarily to fill out that 90K manuscript.

Instead, they should be used as a way to sculpt the character better in your mind.

When you write description, dialogue, when you put them in their conflicts and when you have them react to the situations around them, you’ll know them. You’ll like them. And hopefully, your reader will too.

Got any more? Let’s here them!

Top 10 Ways To Find Inspiration For Your Main Character by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

If we’re creating the right kinds of characters, they will feel like real people.

They would have a clear description, a consistent personality, strong objectives, bad habits and body odor. But where do we start when it comes to creating them?

I don’t think there is one right answer. But if you’re looking for inspiration, or you want a clearer picture, consider this list:

Top Ten Ways to find inspiration for your main character by Katharine Grubb

Top Ten Ways To Find Inspiration For Your Main Character

1. Pick an Archetype In the beginning of your creation consider looking at basic tropes often used in fiction.The archetypes are generally defined by their role and their basic reaction to the story. You know these. You’ve recognized these from books and television shows.  A good writer doesn’t just stop with them, but fleshes them out to become more three dimensional. This is like taking a standard recipe and tricking it out. It’s like choosing a template or a paper doll and then creating your own thing  from it. Here are some links that you can use to find good archetypes. 

2. Basic Description  Let’s say the character you want to create sits down across from you and hands you his resume or CV. Every bit of information you can get from that encounter could be qualified as the basic description. You have to major sources of information: what you see and facts on the page. Does this gangster have a smashed nose? Does your heroine have a faint mustache? How do they look at you? Do they fidget? Create your character by listing everything that you see. Then think about their history.  Your smashed-nosed mobster didn’t go to Harvard, he didn’t grow up in the suburbs, and he didn’t have Swedish parents. Or maybe he did? This list is an extremely helpful when it comes to listing your character’s basic description.

3. Characterization This is my favorite part. Let’s say you don’t have an archetype and you don’t have face to go with, but you do know that this character has specific drives, like they want to be the center of attention, or you know what their emotional state is, or they have dysgraphia and didn’t hold a pencil until they were 12. I believe that the best characters are the ones whose inner life has been fully displayed in the story. How do you figure that out? There are so many ways! Start with the Meyers Briggs Personality Inventory. Then move to the Four Temperaments. Then look at something like this quiz from Psych Central.  I also recommend the Emotional Trait Thesaurus. Don’t be afraid to write backstory, explain their fears and desires, or predict what they’re looking for in the love interest!

4. Desires  As much as I love an emotionally rich character, I think desires are really the most important part of your entire character. By understanding what your character wants, then you can put them into the conflicts that will either give him those things or hinder him in the pursuit. And this is the thing about desires: what we say we want and what we really want are often not the same thing. Let’s say your character wants to be a world famous opera singer, and maybe they’ve got a decent voice, but what if they don’t actually get to be one. What is it that they are pursuing anyway? Are they pursuing financial security? Fame? An identity? Acceptance from their musical parent? What is it that is really driving them? Your desires are the biggest things that make you. And you have levels of these desires. I like to go to my good buddy Abraham Maslow to think about characters’ desires. And it helps me to understand how my character can have conflicting desires and what they need to do with them.

5. The Anti-Antagonist This is probably the most backward way to develop a character, but sometimes we need to do whatever it takes.  Say you don’t know your protagonist very well, but you know your antagonist REALLY well. So write your protagonist as an antagonist to them. Are you confused yet? Your bad guy is allergic to dairy, so your hero has a milk gun. Your bad guy wants to rule all of North America and your good guy is the buffest Canadian Mountie superhero that ever walked. How to do this? Make a list of everything your antagonist is and counter it with the opposite force. Ta-da! A good start in your protagonist’s character development.

6. You  This is where you write what you know. Base your character, at least in the beginning, on yourself. Then tinker with it. Make her ten years younger, a blonde, a high school dropout but still you. You know yourself well. I also recommend this method if writing is new to you and you just don’t know how to fully flesh a character out.  Whether we do it consciously or not, we put ourselves into our stories. I say do it deliberately to get started and then see what happens. You can always change things around and I recommend you do. You don’t want to finish Attack of the Killer Zombie Bees and have your grandmother if it is an autobiography. But be careful. You could wind up a Mary Sue.

7. That Crush you once pined for.  When I look back at the silly crushes I had in college, I don’t even know what I was thinking. I must have liked him for some reason. You had a crush too.  Go back there in your mind and even if you have to exaggerate, even if you have to resist the urge to look them up on Facebook. You are writing about the fantasy in your mind, not of middle age spread and mortgages. Recreate the crush, that moment you talked behind the school, that time it rocked your world. Go there. Change the names, but this could definitely be a character you could get excited about. 

8. The Fan Fiction favorite. This is probably the easiest way to get inspiration for a character. Pick a character from one of your favorite TV shows and keep writing them. Ship them with the person you’ve thought all along that they had great chemistry with, put them in more interesting situation. But then, because you’re a novelist and you’re excited about what you have to say, change their names, the setting, give them a few different traits and you’ve got yourself a new story that can be unrecognizable as the original idea. You can get excited about this because you already know the character, you already kind of know the story you want to tell and you know what is next. Even if this comes to naught, the idea that you can create something on the back of another writer isn’t a bad thing. I’m not talking plagiarism, but I am talking about finding inspiration in something you love already. 

9.The Secret.  We all have something that we would be horrified if someone knew about. Go to Postsecret.com or Humans of New York and find a secret. From that secret, what can you tell us about a character? What would they want eventually? What would be the consequences if someone discovered it? I think this is a great place to build a mental protagonist and from there you may have your story.

10. The Fear.  What is the weirdest fear you have ever heard of? What kind of character would have a fear like that? What kinds of conflicts can you put a character in who would have an irrational fear of bananas? Use this list for a broad look at various fears. Does this inspire you? Do you have a potential Indiana Jones who can’t stand snakes? This could be a great inspiration for your character.  How does he deal with his fear? How does he overcome his weakness?  How does he ride the wave of conflict, how does he reacts, how does he solves problems, how does he communicate this fear to the other characters in the story? Many people keep their fears a secret, some however would declare them publicly. What does your character do? What difference does it make to him or her if the whole world knows that he is is afraid of something? Use fear to make your character even greater.

Got another idea? I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment and maybe I’ll be inspired!

 


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I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.