Lori Soard has a PhD in Journalism but she’s hardly the stuffy professor type. She enjoys writing romantic comedies, such as Finding Ms. Right, gets excited over a good comedy and has even seen one of her books turned in a Manga comic. When she isn’t working on fiction, she is writing articles, designing websites and promoting authors.
Writing Strong Characters
You still remember him, don’t you? I’m talking about that larger than life character that jumped out of the book and right into your heart. Strong characters stay with a reader far after she finishes the last page of a book. The reader might wonder what happens next with that character, relate to that character, want the best for that character, cry with, laugh with and even fall in love. But, how do you write a strong character?
Recipe for Personality
What is it that makes a person unique? It is a combination of their past, their present, their likes, their speech patterns and even their actions. To write a character that jumps off the page, you must write a person. Coming up with a great character is a lot like giving birth to a new person.
Writers can seem a bit crazy as they talk about their characters as though they are real people. However, if you, the writer, don’t see the character as real, then why would your reader ever believe so? There are some steps you can take to dream up a character that will help with this.
1. Life History – Write out a life history for your character.
a. Where was he born? How does this impact him? (small town vs. big city, etc.)
b. Does he have siblings? What is his relationship with them?
c. Parents? Living? Relationship?
a. What is his passion? How does he pursue it?
b. Does he try to help others learn to love his passion?
c. What new things is he willing to try?
3. Darkest Secret
a. What is the one thing he hope no one ever finds out?
b. What is he most afraid of?
You get the idea. You basically are going to write a complete history out for your character so that you know him as well as you know yourself – maybe better.
Don’t be nice to your characters. Have you ever read a book where everything is just lovely? The main characters are in love and there is nothing stopping that love? It’s all sunshine and rainbows… and so unbelievably boring that you probably didn’t get past the first chapter much less read the entire book.
To really show your character’s true inner self, you must make him face that thing he doesn’t want to face. Remember above where we listed his darkest secret and greatest fear? Make him face his greatest fear while being forced to reveal his biggest secret and you’ve shown the reader what this character is made of.
Here is an example from my book Dear Viking. The hero’s secret is that he is a new Christian. In his Viking society this could make him the subject of ridicule and he will be seen as weak. However, his younger brother is asking him questions and if he does not share his Christianity, his brother’s soul could be lost. Yet, if his brother reveals his secret, his fears will all come true. It is a catch-22 and how the hero responds will tell us a lot about his character, how much he cares about his baby brother and how courageous he is.
In the book I’m currently working on, the heroine’s darkest secret is that she wishes she could walk away from the responsibility of the failing nursing home her parents left her. However, her greatest fear is losing the residents, who are like her makeshift family. Again, secret versus fear. What does she do?
There are more examples that are much deeper. You can even use phobias. The hero is scared of heights, but his five-year-old neighbor is on the ledge of a skyscraper and only he can save her. This is the moment when his character is defined.
Keep in mind that little details often make the person. What ticks does your character have? Does she twirl her hair when nervous? Does he crack his knuckles? Is there a word or catch phrase the character likes? These small details can also build to make the character seem real.
Remember, if the character seems real to you, the character will seem real to the reader. Write what you know, or a compilation of who you know. Always sprinkle a little of yourself into your characters, so you, as the writer, can relate to them.