After a month of special guests and interviews and contests and frivolity, it’s time to get back to what we’re really here to encourage:
Today, let’s consider how to help your critique partner write realistic, unforgettable characters.
- Point of View–Is it consistent? Whether it’s first, second (boy, I’d like to see THAT manuscript), or third person, does the POV stick to one person? For instance, a character A cannot know what character B is thinking…he might GUESS what character B is thinking by a look or an action, but he doesn’t have absolute knowledge. Also, a character cannot know what’s going on in the next room, he doesn’t know about a conversation down at the police station–the guy is not OMNISCIENT, an old-fashioned POV rarely used anymore. If the story is told in several points of view, can you tell them apart, easily? Are they all equally strong? If not, perhaps only one POV is needed.
- Is each character necessary to further the story? If the manuscript contains ten weak, ineffectual characters, perhaps combining the cast into two or three characters will focus the energy of the novel.
- Check the individual voices of the characters, each should behave and speak so the reader can tell them apart without using names.
- The main character must be the one to tell the story. Even if the book is narrated in retrospect by an ancillary character, the story is “told” by the main character’s dialogue, actions and centrality.
- The main character should always be the one who solves the problem. That’s not to say that he can’t get help, but in the end, the burden is on the main character.
- Dialogue should fit the speaker. No kids saying things like, “Won’t you sit down?” and other adult-speak. And sweet holy Moses, please. No Info Dumps.
- A character’s action, behavior or emotion must come from who he is–his age, personality, strength of character, health, home life, previous experience, etc. While a character exists to tell the story, it’s got to be believable.
- Each character must have an emotional journey. The main character, first of all, must grow and change by the end of the story. But the other characters should show some change, also.
- How sympathetic is the main character? Do you care about him? Do you care what happens? How about the other characters? The reader must have some reason to root for the character. Doesn’t mean he has to be particularly likeable, but the writer has to give us a good reason to want the MC to succeed.
Time and again, I’ve heard agents/editors say that plot can be fixed, as long as the writer has created an unforgettable character.
Next Time: Plotting and Planning