Thursday, October 9, 2008

Preparing your Novel: How Well Do You Know Your Characters?

Some novels are driven by a plot: such novels will often be fast-paced, and might feel out of control, especially if you want to know the people in them better, and if you aren't content with cardboard cutouts for characters. The biggest advantage to plot-driven novels is that they often make the top of the best-seller's list because they are easy to read, easy to follow, and go light on the emotions.

On the other hand, some novels are driven by characters: they may be slow-paced, but when well-crafted, they can feel real. Characters in such novels jump out of the pages, take control of your daily life, and make you feel like you are part of the book. In fact, many novels don't even feel like books! They feel like friends, like stories that can no longer be seen as unreal, like real situations that could actually be happening next door, around the corner, or even in your own house.

Whether you have a slam-bang plot or a host of unforgettable people in your work, you still need to know your characters better. If you already have a list of characters in your work, then you need to start getting to know them better. After all, if you, as their creator, know next to nothing of their personalities, then how will your readers ever appreciate them? By knowing your characters, you might also be able to write them better without constantly wondering, “What would do?”

Here are a few things that you can do with your characters if you already have them:

1. Draw up a list of your characters. Complete their names. If you can, provide some lineage or ancestral information. This way, they become real people to you, and you may be able to write them better because they feel real. Keep this list handy so that you don't forget who's-who in your work.

2. If you have the time, pretend that you are interviewing your characters. This is is a little bit tricky, but if done well, it might help you out better than just memorizing what your characters do. Of course, you have to do this in private, or you could risk getting scuttled off to the nearest Mental Institution even before your novel is finished.

First, pretend that you are facing your character. Take note of what he or she looks like. Describe your character by taking down notes, as though you were truly at a real interview. Next, ask questions that you know will provide insight into a character's background, motivations, and needs. What does your character need in life? What does he or she want? What does he or she value? What does he or she despise? Take note of the answers and write them down.

Don't knock outward appearances! What does your character look like? How does he or she talk? How your character appears can play into where your character came from and where the character is going.

If and when you hit a roadblock in answering your own questions, then you know that you are on to something. This might be a missing piece in your character, something that you should give dimension to, and something that may make your character more believable.

Lastly, make your interview a conversation. Share thoughts with your character, and see how your character reacts. This does sound insane, doesn't it? But if you do this well, you could turn your characters into your closest friends – and aren't those the most believable stories? The ones that we tell about those whom we know best?

3. When editing, keep your character notes handy. You'll never know if you come across ra flaw in your work that might contradict how your character talks, behaves, thinks, and acts.

If you still don't have characters, then you may want to start drawing up a list of potential players. However, if you are more comfortable starting with a plot, then go ahead. You can put your characters in later and check their nuances and unique points when you have finished polishing and fleshing out your story. In any case, never underestimate the power that your characters hold!

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