Monday, 27 September 2010

How to Create Convincing Characters for your Novels

The writer may discover after reading the first draft of a novel that the fiction characters seem more like chess pieces than warm blooded creatures. They lack soul, life or believability and seem to comply too easily with the author’s wishes. How can the author create realistic characters within the novel?

Dos and Don’ts of Creating Characters for Novels

Creating characters for novels is not always easy, particularly if the writer cannot identify with any of them. The following malpractices in novel writing could result in cardboard cut-out of characters.

  • Creating a character merely to serve the plot. For example, a conveyor of information or a manoeuvre of the other characters into situations, places or states of mind. “Gadget characters” as I call them, could be a best friend, a doctor, an office gossip or a wizened aunt.
  • Subconsciously allowing stereotypical characteristics to leak into the characters. This could be a secretary who gossips, a copper with alcoholic tendencies or a librarian who reads a lot.
  • Not understanding the characters enough by not giving granting motives and desires to drive them, or not paying heed to what makes them tick.
  • Making blanket assumptions about how a character might behave or think when in a certain situation or role. Such as, all fathers are little boys at heart, or all women really want to get married, or all school children hate Mondays.
Conflicts within Characters

Take a listen to a short excerpt of one of my novels, Nora, also on audio.  Here, we learn how the past and the present collides upon Nancy, the main character. This sheds some light upon her behavior, but it also poses more questions than it answers. We can see that Nancy is troubled and that something untoward had occurred at the care center where she had once worked. The fact she has a 'pretty face' has significance and creates conflict upon the sort of person she has become. She has a pretty face, but what is her true nature? What has she done? Such contrasts can add depth to fictional characters and have impact upon their behavior.

Fictional Characters with Strong Identities

The tips to creating realistic characters in novels are to be brutally honest about them. Consider the following remedies:
  • Cut the deadwood characters, particularly those that seem to stand by and do nothing. Would the plot miss them? Consider combining two or more minor characters.
  • Conduct a character questionnaire to draw out the character by inventing backgrounds, tastes and family history. Filling in details will help make the character more real and better understood.
  • Draw on the self. Give the character a common ground with the author. Drawing on personal experience such as divorce or displacement will make the author empathise with the character and more likely, the reader will too.
  • A stereotypical character with unusual or unexpected qualities will make the character more interesting, such as a pub landlord who collects fine art or a nurse who is secretly dyslexic.
It is also important to think about how the characters relate to the plot. A successful novel is one that has a character-driven story. In other words, characters that have such a life of their own, they move the story along without author intervention. It might help to create contrasts between the characters and the story by introducing obstacles that test the characters to the limit. Entwining the characters within the plot is likely to create a more coherent novel with a strong identity.

Making Characters Interesting in Novels

Wooden characters in novels just need a tweak or two to make them more believable. The key is gaining an intimate understanding of what drives them. Identifying with them on a deep and personal level will create depth to the character, and the reader will pick up on this when reading the novel. Cut the deadwood. Combine two minor characters or give a stereotypical character unusual qualities. A character questionnaire will also help the author get to know their characters more.

Links on How to Create Realistic Characters in Novels

Books on writing novels
How to create characters in novels
Making fictional characters believable
Character development questionnaire
How to write dialogue in fiction

1 comment:

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