5 More Simple Writing Tips From Your Editor: Character

In honor of NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d start this series to add a bit more to the ‘writer’ part of A Writer Cooks. If you want to see more after November, please let me know you liked it by leaving a comment! Or suggest what topics you’d like to see tips on. 

Characters carry your book. If you have a book without any characters, it will be very boring and nothing will ever happen. Here are a few tips on how to make more interesting characters.

1. Description

Every character needs to be unique, but it’s way less important how they look than how they act. It’s best to give your characters a bit of description so we can have a general idea of what they look like, and then let us fill in the blanks. We don’t want to read a whole paragraph about how their eyes are blue-black like coal and how flawless their skin is (real description from a book I edited). Work the description in naturally, such as when the character is getting ready. ‘I brushed my long red hair.’ And remember, less is more.

Don’t go cliche either and have your character describe themselves while looking into a mirror. No one actually does that. If you must, pick one or two characteristics that are important and have your character focus on them as part of their character. Which brings us to:

2. Flaws

Don’t write a Mary Sue character: a character that is perfect in every way and everyone falls for them and they know how to do all sorts of obscure hobbies that just happen to be useful. Give your character at least one good flaw. Maybe she’s vain (see above). Maybe she’s insecure (also above). Don’t write a Disney prince for your love interest, give him the insecurity or even anger problems. Maybe he smokes but wants to quit.

Give your character at least two defining traits and one flaw and you’re on your way to a more well-rounded character.

3. Consistency

This goes for the basic stuff (don’t change her hair color halfway through your book or change his name) as well as more complex things. If she stood up to a bully in the beginning of the book, don’t make her scared of a similar situation later on (unless it is important to the story). If she’s brave in one area of her life but completely cowardly in another, that makes for an interesting inconsistency to explore.

Always remember things like how many siblings they have and what their names are, and all other details about their pasts. I am very displeased when I’m editing a book and have to search back through it when I’m sure they mentioned the sister’s name earlier and it has changed. Keep notes if you have to to make sure every detail stays the same throughout the story.

4. Names

You don’t have to break out a name dictionary, but be careful when selecting names for your characters. Readers aren’t as likely to identify with a heroine whose name they can’t pronounce or remember, or a name that doesn’t match the character. Imagine a romantic heroine with the name Hortense (no offense meant if that happens to be your name). You don’t have to go super cliche with a name like Juliet either. Just pick a name that’s believable for your character’s age and situation. If you’re writing historical fiction, try to keep your names appropriate for the time period as well.

Also, try to keep all of the names in your book distinct. In an earlier draft of one of my books, it turned out that the three main male characters were named Joe, Joey and Jay. It wasn’t confusing for me, but I had to think about how other people could be confused. As Jay and Joe weren’t in a lot of scenes together, I left their names alone, but changed Joey to Ryan.

5. Make Your Villain Human

I recently came across a quote I really like that says “There isn’t a person you wouldn’t love if you could read their story.” Your villain or antagonist is a person too. Give them a personality that goes beyond ‘baddie that is pulling the strings to make the hero’s life miserable.’ Give them a moment or two of weakness. Find out why they want to ruin the hero’s life. Give your villain a backstory, even if it doesn’t appear in the book. Make good vs. evil a little more complicated.

 

Want some clarification? Have a specific question? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts about my tips. Please subscribe to be notified of next week’s writing tips.

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