Thanks to Jennifer Bacia for her excellent presentation at the Writers Group Convention 2017. The following is a very brief precis from her talk on Bringing Characters to Life . The notes were drawn from her popular writing guide ‘Bestseller! How to Write Novels that Sell’.
The main character must carry the plot so credible characterisation is essential.
What males a character believable?
- Strong and plausible motivation
- An appropriate psychological profile
- Change and development through the story.
Motivation is what drives your character to act. Her psychological profile helps bring the character to life. By offering readers an understanding of your protagonist’s inner life, you help them understand her motives for behaving as she does.
In other words, motivation is what drives your heroine to act, while her psychological profile reveals why she acts the way she does.
A main character also gains credibility and leaves readers satisfied when, by the end of the story, she is changed in some significant way.
It is important to develop an interesting psychological profile for your villain too. The more credible you make your antagonist, the more worthy an opponent he or she will become for your lead character. Then both will gain greater depth and credibility.
Motivation is every bit as essential for the villain as for the heroine. The ‘bad guy’ must be just as driven to reach a goal as the heroine is to reach hers.
When describing a character, show, don’t tell, is the way to go.
Telling: Kate was a tall, attractive blonde.
Showing: Kate had inherited her father’s height and her mother’s fine English complexion. Even with her pale, long hair drawn severely back, she had the sort of looks that turned men’s heads.
Here is how to fix a character’s appearance in your reader’s mind after the initial description:
-Kate pushed back a strand of fine, fair hair.
-OR: At around 6 feet, Tom Goodman was just an inch or two taller than Kate herself.
This last example shows how to kill two birds with one stone – reiterating Kate’s height while at the same time describing another character.
Mannerisms also add depth to a character and can be woven into the story like this:
-The stop-start traffic drove Kate to distraction. Impatiently, she drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. It was the same impatience she had displayed in her career: anything that impeded her progress was a major irritation.
This way the reader learns more about Kate than if you had merely written the opening sentence in the above example.
Once you understand the psychological core of your character you can find ways to express it. These are some questions to ask yourself: Is the hero /heroine an introvert or extrovert? Sophisticated? Naïve? Generous? Cautious? Aloof? Shy? Confident?
But as always, these points only need to be developed as far as you need them to move your plot along.
Minor characters too need to have some ‘flesh’. They can be portrayed as fleetingly as this:
-Elaine, the other waitress, was nominated to show Kate the ropes. She was a thirtyish mother of two, top-heavy with dark, spiky hair and a ringing voice.
I also feel it’s also important to understand what not to do when attempting to pull together all the elements of a novel, so I have given plenty of examples in ‘Bestseller! How to Write Novels that Sell’.
Jennifer Bacia 2017