Whether you’re writing a series or a stand-alone book, you have to consider both characters and plot. A character-driven story still needs to have something happen. And a plot-driven story must have compelling characters in order to keep the reader interested. However, sometimes, writers go a little overboard as they try to write unique characters.
Here are some common character blunders:
-The Jerk/Biatch: This often isn’t done on purpose. Usually, the writer gets carried away, making the character whiny, bitchy, moody, or just plain nasty, because he wants her to stand out. While, technically, this will give the character room to grow, chances are the reader won’t want to read about her long enough to see that happen. So, figure out a way to have some sort of balance. Your protagonist doesn’t have to be a happy-go-lucky/nothing-bothers-me character. You can still show her mood swings or snarky attitude, but make sure you also show some compassion and vulnerability. That’s what will make her rounded enough for the reader to want to see her grow.
-The Snoozer: Sometimes, the author is so focused on the plot, she forgets to add depth to the character. BORING. We don’t just want to know what Jane is doing. We want to know how this is affecting her, and we want to predict what she’ll do next. Go deep into her POV (point of view), so we can experience the journey through her eyes.
-The Failure: This character is someone who waits for others to do things for him. He might be a retired detective, who’s currently working a case, but instead of being aggressive and investigating the murder, he sends others out to do the work and waits to hear back. He’s either lazy or doesn’t know how to do his job. What was the point in making him a detective then? He could’ve just been a bystander. Your main character needs to be active and help the plot move forward.
-The Walk-Along: This character walks along, waiting for things to happen. He’s not aggressive. He doesn’t have a plan. Things just happen to him, then he moves on. While it’s sometimes the case where something will happen to a character, usually something bad that they didn’t foresee, you shouldn’t write the whole story that way. One coincidence after another will chase the reader away. Give the character a purpose. Have him strive for something. If conflict arises, have him fight. If he loses, have him learn from the experience and create a plan for next time.
-The Shocker: This guy was put in the story to shock the reader. He does the most disgusting things just to affect the reader, but he doesn’t actually add to the story, especially if he isn’t the killer. But even a murderer should have more than one dimension. He shouldn’t kill just for the sake of killing. Give him a backstory so we can get into his head and understand why he does the things he does. Adding this depth to his character will actually create a creepier character because the reader will know him and expect the worst. The other guy, the gross-for-the-heck-of-it guy serves no purpose and should be removed.
-The Multiples: Your protagonist should have a personality of his own. When he doesn’t, and he blends in or can even be replaced by other characters, you have a case of the multiples. Dig deeper. Create a character sheet for each of the main characters. Interview them if you have to. If they all seem like the same guy, it’s because you haven’t gotten to know them well enough. Figure how they’re different, including how they’d react to the same situation, and show us what makes each one of them unique.
-The Overly Unique: While it’s important to show how your characters differ from each other and from those already written, to some extent, they need to seem just like us. Creating a character with one eye, three fingers, a wooden leg, and green hair, who says “punkador” a lot, eats toad skin and goat intestines, sleeps three hours a day, and is actually human… Well, that might be just a little too unique. Although, you can save this character by giving her human-like qualities. After all, vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, and other creatures aren’t exactly like us, but we can relate to their human characteristics and reactions.
Every character has a story to tell. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should tell every characters’ story in one novel, but you should know their story. Decide which character will work best for this book, and go from there. And always, always keep the reader in mind.
What are some of the characters you’ve read about, and why did they interest you? What made you love or hate them?