Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Writing character

I've just been reading a book, which I was forced to abandon (something that almost NEVER happens) because I found the main character and her life to be completely unconvincing- and, in fact, I didn't actually care what happened to them. It got me thinking about all the things that can ruin a story for the reader, and a large number of them are connected to the protagonist - after all, it's through their eyes, be it in first or third person, that we experience the story. They don't have to be likable - I can think of plenty of classics with narrators who are downright detestable! - but in Young Adult and Children's fiction in particular, there has to be something there we can connect to. So I've written a list of important things to think about when creating your main character.

  • Backstory- don't bombard the reader with details, but in order to establish an emotional connection with the protagonist, we need to know who they are and where they come from. They have to feel like they've lived before the story began. In the first chapter of The Hunger Games, we find out the basic details of Katniss's life - in particular her love for her sister, Prim. An instant emotional connection is established. In other books, the characters act like paper cut-outs, or puppets of the plot (had to get in a sneaky reference to my book there!), and it's like they only exist for the purposes of the story. Even if the book's set on another planet, the character's life has to be plausible otherwise the story just won't convince.
  •  Think about the different elements involved in constructing a character: description, dialogue, action, memories, reactions to other characters. Above all, remember that showing us what a character is like is almost always better than telling us. Telling is best used for talking about the character's past and situation (though much of this can often be implied too), whereas the most effective way to show characteristics is through letting the reader watch the characters in action.
  • Dialogue - this is another of the most important ways to reveal character - in fact, dialogue IS character. We can infer so much about someone by the way they speak, what they say, and, crucially, what they don't say. The way characters speak to others can reveal social status, attitude towards life, and much more.
  • Details are key. Make profiles for all your main characters and include lots of detail, however apparently trivial: family, friends, favourite colour, hobbies. It's the details that make your character stand out like a real individual, and not simply there for plot purposes. But remember to stay consistent!
  • A novel should be about, in part, the main character's journey. They should have changed in some way by the end of the book. It's part of the key to a satisfying ending. I always write the main character's storyline out before starting a new project.

That's it from me for today! I'm currently in Essay Hell and might not be able to update as frequently, but I'll be posting a review of The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa in the next few days, and I'm preparing to host my first author interview/feature!


  1. Great thoughts- thanks for sharing!

  2. Some great tips here, thanks for highlighting.

  3. total shame when you can't finish a book because of the main character...but thanks for good tips!

  4. This is very helpful. Thanks for sharing.