How To Begin To Develop Character In Your Story?

The character in your story is pretty much the key to make it all work, to inspire the readers to keep turning the page or scrolling down the screen.

Dwight Swain writes:

“A character is a person in a story.

“To create story people, you grab the first stick figures that come in handy; then you flesh them out until they spring to life.”

So, the question becomes how the heck do you flesh them out, right?

Matt Bird writes, “Character is the human element of your story, the aspect that the audience actually cares about.”

And that’s the big deal.

You can have the best plot in the world and most of the time, it won’t matter because people want characters that they can cheer for, commiserate with, worry about.

Bird believes that there are certain elements that need to be there for readers to care about your character:

  1. They have to identify with them (the character).
  2. The character needs to be resourceful.
  3. The character needs to be active.
  4. The character who is misunderstood is more lovable than the one who saves the cat.
  5. The character doesn’t have to be likeable to be lovable. Go for lovable.
  6. A character who is vulnerable is good and even a badass can be vulnerable.

In the Secrets of Story, Bird brilliantly splits three aspects of hero/protagonists into three needs:

  1. Believe – They have to feel like the character is real.
  2. Care – The reader has to be emotionally engaged with the character’s journey.
  3. Invest – The reader has to be into the character. Bird says this comes from active characters who are resourceful and aren’t like the other characters in the book.

Bird further goes on to say:

Matt Bird from his blog (link here). http://www.secretsofstory.com/2017/07/how-to-create-compelling-character.html

But it’s his first bit that interests me the most right now.

Humans are stunningly complex. We contradict ourselves. We don’t always make sense and to encapsulate all of that in a novel is pretty impossible, so we have to pick and choose the contradictions and details to highlight. How do you deal with that?

Swain writes,

“A story is a record of how somebody deals with danger. One danger, for a simple story; a series of inter-related dangers, for one more complex.”

He advocates developing your character only so much as it is needed to deal with the story or to ‘fulfill his function in the story. You give an impression and approximation of life, rather than attempting to duplicate life itself.”

Swain believes that character begin with a fragment and then the author adds more and more on to that character, individualizing her until she becomes more real, more believable.

That individualization occurs through free association and layering in observations and details. What begins as a fragment of an idea (guinea pig hero) becomes a believable, lovable character as the author “supplements” that fragment with “Thought and insight.”

And that can be hard.

Swain thinks it’s hard because in real life, we tend not analyze people’s behavior and motivations. We take them and their actions for granted, he says.

“Consequently, when we try to build story people, we find that we lack a grasp of mental mechanisms: motivations.”

And motivations? They are a big deal. They are why characters go after goals. They are the yearnings that we readers connect to.

So, Swain says this is where the imagination steps in.

“To understand a man,” he writes,” you have to grasp the essence of that wholeness . . . its gestalt, the totality of its configuration.. . Each of us is an entity, a personal and private whole that transcends its components.”

I advocate taking a journal or diary when you’re really lost developing a character and go somewhere safe and observe people, think about why they might be acting the way they are. What is it that’s going on with them. Practice trying to understand people and you build those character development skills. 

NEW BOOK OUT!

It’s super fun. An adult paranormal/mystery/romance/horror blend. Think Charlaine Harris but without all the vampires. Instead there are shifters and dragon grandmothers and evil police chiefs and potential necromancers and the occasional zombie and a sexy skunk.

It’s out November 1, which means you can buy it now, and I seriously love it. So, it would be cool if you bought it so I can be all motivated to write the next book.

Oh, and it’s quirky.

This is because most of my books are quirky.

Be ready to resurrect your love of the paranormal in the first novel in the Alisa Thea series—the books that give new meaning to quirky paranormal.

Alisa Thea is barely scraping by as a landscaper in small-town Bar Harbor. She can’t touch people with her bare skin without seeing their deaths and passing out, which limits her job and friendship opportunities. It also doesn’t give much of a possibility for a love life, nor does her overbearing stepfather, the town’s sheriff. Then along comes an opportunity at a local campground where she thinks her need for a home and job are finally solved . . .

But the campground and its quirky residents have secrets of their own: the upper level is full of paranormals. And when some horrifying murders hit the campground—along with a potential boyfriend from her past who may be involved—Alisa starts to wonder if living in a campground of paranormals will end up in her own death.

Join New York Times and internationally best[selling author Carrie Jones in the first book of the Alisa Thea Series as it combines the excitement of a thriller with the first-hand immediacy and quirky heroines that Jones is known for.

It’s fun. It’s weird. It’s kind of like Charlaine Harris, but a little bit more achy and weird.

best maine paranormal carrie jones
Almost Dead Series – Meet Alissa Thea, a sexy skunk, a haunted campground and a lot of quirky

Make Dialogue Your BFF

Dialogue and voice both do some really important things in your story.

Provide context

You can provide some pretty awesome information via dialogue and idiosyncratic character voice.

Show the subtext

Subtext is basically the hidden motivation/emotion/wants of your character that aren’t right there out on the surface.

So if I wrote: 

“Look at you in that onesie! What a brave person you are.” Shaun said with a grimace.

You’d know that Shaun is really thinking that the other character is more unconventional than brave.

Make things more exciting –

When you have two characters bickering, it tends to be more interesting on the page than saying, “They bickered.”

Dialogue and voice helps provide context, drama, and interest. It pulls the reader in. It’s a big part of showing rather than telling.

“I can’t believe you don’t like my onesie,” she said, spinning around in front of the couch, arms out.

He smirked. “Didn’t say that.”

“Manatees are frolicking on this.” She stopped spinning and pulled out the fabric a bit. “Look! Look at the print. It is imported.”

“You look like you’re two. A two year old with boobs.”

“Boobs! Call them breasts. Oh my word . . .”

“That makes you sound like a chicken.”

“You are the chicken, mister, a negative, judgmental and derogatory chicken and I am incensed that you don’t understand the value of this outfit or me.”

“WTF, baby.” 

Shows character difference.

Good dialogue and good voice show us how the characters aren’t the same. Even in my horrible example up there, the two characters don’t sound the same. One has longer sentences and more Latinate word choices. The other is a bit more blunt. One uses conjunctions and the other doesn’t.

Dialogue and voice go hand in hand to really make a huge impact on your story. Get cozy with them. Learn their rules. Buy them a coffee. Make them your friends. You won’t regret it.

NEW BOOK ALERT!

I just want to let everyone know that INCHWORMS (The Dude Series Book 2) is out and having a good time as Dude competes for a full scholarship at a prestigious Southern college and getting into a bit of trouble.

Here’s what it’s about:

A fascinating must-read suspense from New York Times bestseller Carrie Jones.

A new chance visiting a small Southern college.
A potential love interest for a broken girl obsessed with psychology.
A damaged group of co-eds.
A drowning that’s no accident.
A threat that seems to have no end.

And just like that Jessica Goodfeather aka Dude’s trip away from her claustrophobic life in Maine to try to get an amazing scholarship to her dream school has suddenly turned deadly. Again.


What would you do to make a difference?

After his best friend Norah was almost abducted, Cole Nicholaus has spent most of his childhood homeschooled, lonely and pining for Norah to move from best friend to girl friend status. When birds follow him around or he levitates the dishes, he thinks nothing of it—until a reporter appears and pushes him into making a choice: stay safe at home or help save a kidnapped kid.

Cole and Norah quickly end up trying to not just save a kid, but an entire town from a curse that has devastating roots and implications for how exactly Cole came to be the saint that he is.

Can Cole stop evil from hurting him and Norah again? And maybe even get together? Only the saints know.

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the NEED seriesSaint is a book about dealing with the consequences that make us who we are and being brave enough to admit who we love and what we need.

BUY NOW! 🙂 I made a smiley face there so you don’t feel like I’m too desperate.

The cover. Creepy, right?

You can read an excerpt right here.

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