Well, my trouble with the current scene I’m writin’ has been mostly solved. Turns out I forgot a very important rule: Even in a comedy (even though every bit of this here story is true, mind you), you must have your readers actually CARE ABOUT the characters. If you ain’t interested in your characters, and find them fascinating, your audience won’t care at all for them. This here is a serious drawback to the enjoyment of the story. The top priority in any fiction writing is to create an EMOTIONAL RESPONSE in the reader to your work. Whether it’s to thrill them (Tom Clancy), scare them (Steven King), make them laugh (Janet Evanovich), or make them feel happily romantic (Emily Brontë). In non-fiction, EDUCATING the reader is the goal, but in fiction, EMOTIONS are the bridge that connect the writer’s goals to the reader’s satisfaction (or lack thereof, if the reader doesn’t feel an emotional response to the work.)
Over the months that I’ve been writin’ this tale, I’ve made a still-growin’ checklist of some things to do when developing characters:
- Make them have some sort of ongoing challenge or difficulty or weakness/vulnerability that makes the readers feel sorry for him/her. (This can also be overdone, and ain’t always appropriate though.)
- Use quirks, like commonly-used speech idioms and expressions in their dialogue. Don’t tell the readers that the character has these idioms, just show them. That way they get to know the characters just like getting to know people in person, gradually but more realistically. I’m no fan of the writer interjecting fifteen pages of biographical material out of no-wheres when a character is introduced, like suddenly interrupting the story with something that reads like a danged Wikipedia article, completely breakin’ the pace of the story. This here to me is like watchin’ a movie and all of a sudden the movie stops when a new character comes on screen, and the director appears on-screen instead, and reads an article on that character’s life up ’til this point in the story. How would I have known any of that information if I was in the story? And putting that information on screen in a movie, or in a long biography in the middle of the plot, takes the reader/viewer OUT OF the story. Let your readers and viewers learn just as if they were in the story, because that’s the job of every writer – to put the reader IN the story.
- Use personality and biographical idiosyncrasies. (Mostly for comedies though, and this can be overdone, which is what happened with the librarian character.)
- Make them be very noble and selfless/altruistic, or at least good people. This is sorta in direct opposition to the first rule above, but the overall gist is to make the heroes and other character basically GOOD people that you would like, or at least respect, if you met them in real life, and they seem real, meaning not entirely perfect.
So now my librarian is less of a comedic caricature and more like a real person, much more interesting, and I’ve also added a sub-plot about the challenges that the librarian faces (see my previous post about sub-plots.) I hope to get that entire chapter now written by the end of the week.
So, drop me a line or a comment on tips you have on writing YOUR characters; I’m always up for swappin’ advice, notes, and experiences. Thank ye kindly!