How to Write Awesome Characters

best writing coaches - Carrie Jones

Hi! If you’re just joining us we’re talking about character this week. To find the posts about character, just look at the tags WRITING CHARACTERS or MAKING CHARACTERS.

So, in the comments of a blog I used to guest star in, a writer, Helen, mentioned that she once took a writing class and “the teacher said every character had to have a good trait, a bad trait, and a quirk of some kind. I’ve often wondered if that was good advice.”

I think that’s pretty simplistic, actually, no offense to that teacher. But it’s not bad advice. And it works as a fantastic base.

What Does Every Character Need?

  1. A good trait
  2. A bad trait
  3. A quirk
  4. A motivation (Yep. I added that in. Everybody wants. Everybody needs. Especially characters.)

Lots of times when teaching people to write, we try to reduce things down to a magic formula that is as simple as possible, because that’s kind of what people want: We want it easy.

And it can work. I mean microwave popcorn works. But is it as good as real popcorn, popped over a campfire? Um. No.

Writing is like that too. We can try to create characters (quirky or not) by going like this.

Good trait: Brave
Bad trait: Leaps without looking
Quirk: Collects phobias

Want/Motivation: To be loved

But that doesn’t really make a character real or whole or detailed or anything like that.

Also, people tend not to have just one good trait, bad trait, or quirk. These things shift and change.

People and characters are not static things that can be defined so easily.

Just try to define my character that easily. I dare you! 

I mean, I ADORED Harry Potter when I first read him, but sometimes he’s a bit of a pain-in-the bum when he gets all mopey and secretive and annoyed at Ron. Right?

Similarly, I love my daughter of awesome who is normally a sweetheart, but sometimes she’s a bit of a pain-in-the-bum when she gets all humans-must-not-chew-food-anywhere-near-me.

Choices Define Our Characters

When I talk at schools all around the country (pre COVID), I tell the students that character is determined by the choices someone makes in real life and in books.

Major characters have choices. Quirky characters have choices.

When the kids decide to follow the Cat in the Hat that forms part of their characters. When Harry feels empathy for the snake that’s jailed in the zoo that forms part of his character.

What else forms a character?

How they talk
How they feel
How they want
What they want
What they feel
What they say
What they do
How they act
Why they act
How they fidget
Why they fidget
THE CHOICES THEY MAKE!!!!! (This is the big one, honestly. That’s why I keep stressing it.)

The stronger those things are oftentimes the more real or the more quirky the character is.

Think about in Winn Dixie. That little girls wants so hard and how she talked and felt were so vivid that they not only make her character soar, they also make the book soar.

As authors for kids or even adults, we need to know the why and how of our characters (or we have to just trust the why and how depending on what kind of writer we are) and we have to work. It isn’t always simple and that’s good. Really good. 

Okay. More tomorrow! I have revisions to do.

Xo
Carrie



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Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

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