The general rule is to start your story with your main character. However, if this person’s importance fades later, you might want to make it a prologue if that scene is essential to the story.
This is something that relates to yesterday’s blog about when a minor character takes over the story. If he or she steps into the star role, you may need to introduce them in chapter one. If both your intended main and the minor character are both in the first chapter, this isn’t a problem. You just need to open with the main character’s POV. However, if the one taking over doesn’t come on the scene until later, it’s more of a challenge.
If anyone out there has encountered a similar issue I’d love to hear how you solved it.
Yesterday I mentioned using character interviews to get to know him or her better as well as a good promotional vehicle. Another way to get to know your characters is by meditating on him or her. If they seem lost or you don’t know what they need to do next, it’s time to evaluate why they’re there. A few things to consider are:
What is their place in the story?
How do they fit into the plot?
What motivates them?
What do they want?
Answering these questions will help you in one of two ways. You’ll either figure out what they need to do or you’ll discover that they’re extraneous and don’t belong in your story. If you really like him or her, file them away for a future story but don’t bog your story down with anyone who doesn’t contribute to the story line and plot.
Have you ever written a character interview? They’re great for introducing the people in your story to potential readers and fans. Who doesn’t want to get to know someone who’s interesting? Someone who has already read your story will enjoy getting to know your characters better as well, especially if they have a favorite.
But did you know they’re also an excellent way to get to know your own characters better? Try it next time you’re stumped about how someone in your story would behave. If you don’t know what he or she will do, ask them! If you’re having to push a character to do something and they’re resisting, find out why as well as what they’d rather do. Sometimes this will result in a plot twist, but it will be more authentic that forcing a character to do something contrary to their nature.
Have you ever thought of what your protagonist’s (or other characters’) favorite music genre or even favorite song might be? Think about how old s/he is and what type of music was popular when they were in their teens & early 20s.
This is particularly useful in character development since it helps define the person. For example, if someone prefers Beethoven to acid rock it clearly tells you something about them. When you’re getting to know a character yourself, listening to “their” favorite music an help you get in their zone as well. When your character comes to life it makes writing so much easier.
This is also a way for readers to relate to a character, especially if they share a favorite song with someone in your book. Just be aware that you can’t include lyrics of a song without permission, but the title works if it’s a popular song with which most of your fans are familiar.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Is that what you are doing now or did you take a different turn somewhere along the line and wind up something else? I have found that those childhood dreams may get buried, but never entirely go away. They are deeply programmed in your psyche and aren’t happy when they’re suppressed.
Any career that interests you is fun to research and thus a great one to use for your protagonist. Even if you never got to be what you originally hoped to be, you can do it vicariously through one of your characters.
Who knows what you might discover in the process. It may even motivate you to finally pursue your original dream or perhaps decide it was best left behind. Either way, your subconscious will thank you.
They say to “write what you know.” What life experiences do you have that are worth sharing? Even if you think you’ve lived a pretty boring life, there are undoubtedly lessons you can share and/or help you with character development. Don’t be afraid to let who you are peek through in your stories.
Have you ever thought about sharing your memoirs? If you’re between novels it may be a good time to start writing them up. If you’ve done something unusual in your career, traveled extensively, or have a particular hobby or interest that has brought you some interesting experiences, this is one way to share them. However, you can also use them for your characters, too. Don’t let your life’s lessons and what you’ve learned go to waste.
I’m going to sneak in a plug for one of my nonfiction books here simply because it fits the subject. Family folklore is something that many have never heard of, yet we all have it. What are your family’s traditions for holidays? Favorite stories and recipes? Ethnic origins? Vacation adventures? For more ideas, check out “The Family History Fun Factor”. It’s free on Kindle Unlimited. You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.
The more you know about human behavior and psychology and incorporate it into your writing, the more convincing your characters will be. These are things you should pick up from the people around you and your life experience. If personality types like Myers-Briggs (I’m an INTJ, by the way) and various other behavioral descriptions absolutely aren’t your thing, then a viable alternative that I’ve mentioned before is using the characteristics of the various astrological signs as a character template.
If you’ve paid the slightest attention to those around you, you’ll undoubtedly recognize the characteristics that fit the various signs. Then, if you find out which ones do and don’t get along, you have a ready-made formula to introduce conflict.
If you read these tips on a regular basis, then you know I don’t usually use them for self-promotional purposes. However, since I have actually written a book about astrology that describes the signs, I feel it’s my duty to mention it here. You can pick up a copy on Amazon or just about any other retail sales channel here. For a quick overview of how different signs get along, you can find that for free on my website here.
Once a story gets rolling, writer’s block is rare. If you get stuck, perhaps you took a wrong turn somewhere with either the character or plot. Forcing a character to do something s/he resists can be a good sign that the character has come alive. In this case, you can often turn him or her loose to see what s/he wants to do. New plot twists can come out that will surprise even you! If you don’t know what’s going to happen next, you can bet your readers probably won’t, either!
If your plot hits a wall, taking a break to do some research will often open things up again.
Make your characters as different as possible, so they stand out as individuals. This includes their appearance, speech patterns, and personalities. For example, give each one their own pet phrases or expressions. If they all say the same one, even if it’s an expletive, it doesn’t distinguish him or her as an individual. Of course there are some expletives that are more popular than others, and thus pervasive, but if you’re original in some way, it adds a touch of creativity which most readers will appreciate.
Unique appearance that is distinctive and reinforces the character’s personality is helpful to the reader in keeping them sorted out as well. Gestures are another way, whether it’s rolling their eyes or dismissing a statement with a wave of their hand. A unique perfume or aftershave fragrance is another way to bring another sensory detail into the story. Pay attention to the people you know the best and what their individual habits are for ideas.
Make it a habit to “people watch” when you’re in places like the grocery store, the mall, waiting in the doctor’s or dentist’s office, or Walmart. When you see someone who catches your eye, think of how you would describe that person if s/he were in one of your stories. (Try not to stare, it could get you in trouble.)
As they say, truth is stranger than fiction, and you can often see characters far beyond anything you could imagine, unless you’re deep into fantasy writing and this sort of thing comes naturally. Even then, it can fuel your already-fertile imagination. This is also one way to put your time to good use while doing routine errands that can sometimes feel like a nuisance when you’d rather be writing.