Building Better Characters

I’ve been working on a new project. Like many proto-stories, I have a few scenes in mind, some setting details, and some characters. And, as I’ve talked about before, I’m an outliner. And each time I outline a story, I aim to make it better, stronger, a really solid outline–one that can demonstrate conflict, pacing, tension, character arcs and growth, etc. However, when putting together this outline, I noticed that it was falling flat.

When I studied the outline to figure out why, I realized that I didn’t have a good sense of my characters, particularly my protagonist. This is a big problem. If I don’t know who my characters are (their past, their motivations, the lies they tell themselves, their strengths, their weaknesses, etc.), then they are just puppets dancing from beat to beat, in service of the plot. However, well-defined characters drive the plot. If I understand it correctly, plot should the result of characters’ acts and choices instead of the thing that forces the character to act or choose certain things.

So it was interesting that while I was working on getting to know my characters better, I came across a couple of great articles. The first Your Text is by Charlie Jane Anders on io9.com (and really, you should always check out Anders’s writing advice). The second Your Text is by C.S. Lakin. Together, these posts talk about creating characters, making them suffer, and creating high stakes for them to face.

So that’s what I’m up to these days. Getting to know my characters, so I can make them suffer, struggle, and fight. Ah, writing. Imaginary sadism at its finest.

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