Who is one of your favorite fictional characters?
[I’ll give you a minute to think.]
Once you’ve named one, I’d like you to take a minute and think of three ways you would describe the character. Try to only use one of them as a physical descriptor.
And…go! (I’ll wait.)
One of mine is Olive Kitteridge, of the aptly titled books Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. She is so complex and layered. Sometimes she’s abrupt and a little grumpy, other times she’s kind and patient. She’s stern but also patient, and genuinely cares for those around her but struggles to show it.
In your description of your fave, you probably came up with a variety of adjectives. That’s great! That means that the writer who created that character understood that to create a compelling character, they have to start out as a fully fleshed out, three-dimensional character even before they move through the events of the story.
And this is why you remember the character.
The writer knows WAY more about the character than the reader can ever know. What makes it onto the page is only the tip of the iceberg.
But by having all of this information, the writer can make intentional and smart decisions about revealing big and little details about the character, whether it’s
- their personality
- their physical appearance
- their backstory
- their emotional response
In this week’s YouTube videos, I’m sharing tips on how to create a fictional character that is fully formed, AND how to plan their character arc in your novel. I hope you find them helpful.
Let me know in the comments who your favorite fictional characters are and why!
Hello Writers. We spend a lot of time around here talking about how to increase the chances that your novel will connect with readers. Today we’re talking about what I think is the main thing that keeps a reader reading: a compelling character arc. Imagine spending a week reading a novel where the main character isn’t at all impacted by the events of the story. Where at the end of the story, they’re exactly the same as they were at the beginning. Imagine if the original Star Wars movie ended with Luke Skywalker still dreaming of a life beyond what he had on the desert farm. Boring! Or what if Harry Potter was still struggling at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone to understand his place in his family, and maybe even still letting the Dursleys emotionally abuse him? Or what if Jo in Little Women never felt emboldened enough to step outside of the social conventions and publish her novel?
The point is, what makes a story compelling and emotionally resonant to a reader is the change that the main character goes through over the course of the story. And in this video, I’m gonna give you five questions to ask about your main character to help plan their character arc. But before we dive in, I wanna let you know about a special offer I’ve got going right now. My mini course, the Compelling Character Lab, is available for purchase. It’s a self-guided set of steps that you can take any character through in order to develop them into three-dimensional, nuanced, and complex personalities you want them to be. Grab the Compelling Character Lab at the link in the description below. Alright, let’s dive into those five questions. Question number one: what does your main character want, believe, and fear? Now, this is a three part question, so I’m cheating a little, but the want, belief, and fear are all connected.
If you ask what your character wants, then you can explore what they believe getting that thing means to them, and then you can explore what they fear will happen if they don’t get it. Question number two: how did they get here to the start of the story? In other words, what’s happened in their life to bring them to this place where they want, believe, and fear something in particular? Question three: what’s at stake for them? Now, this is a really important question, right? Because this is what creates the tension in your novel, which I’ve talked about in a previous video. If things don’t go the way the character wants them to go, what is the worst case scenario? And here’s a hint: you want the worst case scenario to be pretty devastating for the character. So if your stakes don’t seem very high, like it’s not that big of a deal, then you’ll definitely want to raise them.
Question number four: what obstacles will be in their way to getting to what they want? By asking this question, we’re starting to veer into plot events a bit, but you’ll also need to consider internal obstacles. How are other things standing in their way and how are they standing in their own way? Question five: how are they going to have changed? By the end of the story, this change will be external. Sure, something in their lives will definitely have changed, but the more important question is how are they going to change on the inside? Here’s a hint: go back to those beliefs and fears from question number one, because the change should have something to do with that. Even stories with the most exciting and page-turning events need to have a main character that is changed by those events in some way. This is how readers connect with your story. It takes time and it takes hard work, but you can increase the chances that a reader will connect with your story. If you’d like more writing tips and if you know someone who might enjoy this content too, please subscribe and share. I’ll see you next time. Happy writing.