Monday, October 7, 2013

The Character Connection

I created a great protagonist for my novel--or so I thought, until my Boot Camp Sargent told me she had a hard time connecting with her. She was too perfect. Thin, beautiful, full of life. That was three years ago. Karlinah, from The Seventh City, has evolved since then. Now I am happy to say that an editor deemed her to be "a rich, complex, and compelling character". What thrilling comments to receive! So what has made the difference?

  • Give your character flaws. Okay, so Karlinah is a gorgeous Lamanite princess but she most definitely isn't perfect. She is outspoken, impatient, and has a temper. She's bossy and used to getting her way. Imagine the opportunities to reveal a dynamic, changing character when circumstances force her to face trials out of her comfort zone. Likewise, she has strengths that go beyond the physical and must use them to get out of trouble. We want believable and memorable characters. 
  • Start in a place where readers feel empathy for the character. My boot camp manuscript beginning is now chapter five in the novel. I needed to back up and start with the background event that most aroused reader sympathy for Karlinah. Not overboard sympathy, but enough trouble to make readers instantly care about her. Throw in some intrigue and the new first chapter garnered me a first place in a first chapter contest.
  • Show the protagonist doing something to find the solution to her problem(s). Karlinah makes choices she wouldn't have had to make if she lived forever in her pampered princess world. This is where character and plot work together to show the heroine's growth. What motivation drives your character toward her arc? Avoiding death is perhaps the biggest motivator of all and Karlinah must guard the secret that could get her killed. This secret is partly revealed in the first chapter, with more along the way.

Thinking about these five things to reveal your character can go a long way toward making your story riveting. There are others, of course, but strengthen one at a time during the revision process and you are well on your way. Happy writing!

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