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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Character Building

A crucial element to any story is the characters that move about. Readers have to fall in love with these characters whether they are good, bad or oh so evil. I've found that if cleverly written, even the worst of characters can become a favorite.

As posted yesterday, I recently read On Writing A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Here are the tips on character building I pulled from the memoir that have helped me tremendously.

1. When out and about pay close attention to those around you and how they behave and record what you see. In other words, people watch. This is something I always do and it of course drives my family crazy. But what better way create real-life characters.

2. Keep in mind that in real life, no one is "the bad guy" or "the best friend." We all regard ourselves as the main character or the protagonist. Use this same attitude when creating characters.

3. Every character is an extension of you in some way, yes the rest is from your imagination. But whether you plan the action or not, a small part of you seeps in.

4. Make your characters behave in such a way that both helps the story and seems reasonable. Think about what we know about the character and what we know of real-life.

5. Make a bad character persuasive. For example, make your readers understand the reasoning behind their actions...this makes the character even more disturbing and real.

6. Remember, sometimes villains feel self doubt or pity. Sometimes the good guy is tempted to not do the right thing.

*Most important tip I took away from this book...If you do your job right, your characters will come to life and start doing stuff on their own.

So there you have it. These tips have helped me breathe new life into the characters in my current WIP and also resulted in a trip to the mall for a session of people watching. Much to my sons embarrassment! But hey, its all for the sake of the story so what can I say? We do what we have to do.

If you haven't read this book yet, I highly recommend. What each person takes away depends on what stage of your journey you are in. And were I to read it again, I'm certain I would take something else away entirely.

20 comments:

Cheree said...

I love Stephen King On Writing, it has a lot of great tips in it. I agree with #6. I love villains that are more than stereotypical 2d bad guys. If I can feel sorry for them, even just a little bit, then the writer's done their job right.

Laura Pauling said...

Thanks for sharing! I think you hit on something really important - making all the characters act as if it's their story! Harder than it sounds though!

salarsenッ said...

Number 2 and 3 resonate with me, totally. I could think and chat about those forever.

Just a side note to Stephen's advice: be careful how closely you watch people. Hah...Some lady caught me staring at her in a Mall. She seemed pretty ticked about it, but she was so dang interesting. She actually influenced my odd librarian lady in my ms. ";-)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I was reading On Writing again the other day, such good advice!

I do like to people watch. I hope I don't stare, but I like to think I've gotten good at a sneaky sideways glance now. lol.

Matthew Rush said...

You make an excellent point. I especially love that you point out about evil characters. One of my favorite of all time is Professor Snape, and only because I really loved to hate him (well, at least until the very end)!

Jess said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clara said...

I worship the King. Great tips Renae, we improve by learning from the best!!

Jess said...

Woops--messed up that comment. Was just saying that I love people watching too. A good spot is long grocery store lines where some people get really twitchy (and I might be one of the twitchy ones if I have my 2-year-old with me).

Melissa said...

Stephen King on writing was such a great book. I really like this post and it brings up a lot of valuable points!

Elana Johnson said...

Perfection--#2 really speaks to me. We really do see ourselves as the MC, not the sidekick or whatever. That is a great reminder.

Bethany Mattingly said...

Definitely one I should pick up now. asap. Thanks for the pointers :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love #6. Now to make sure I'm doing all of them. :D

Jemi Fraser said...

Such good advice! I love the one about each character (and person) believing they are the protagonist - so true!!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great tips. I really liked #5 & 6 regarding the bad character. Deepening those characters can make your story more interesting.

Lydia K said...

It's been a while since I read this book. Thanks for reminding me why I liked it so much!

Janet Johnson said...

Your poor son . . . totally laughing over the image of you at the mall with your son. :)

And I can't believe I haven't read this book, yet. I've heard it recommended over and over. Time to fix that.

Myne Whitman said...

On writing by SK is really good and like you said, what one gets out of it differs depending on their level. Thanks for sharing this.

Chris Phillips said...

I can totally picture your son yelling at you in the mall for gawking at people. classic!

Lisa Gail Green said...

This book keeps coming up so I'm going to have to get it! Thanks for the tips, I believe it's important to remember your characters have to have dimension.

Adeeva Afsheen said...


Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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