Best friends are those people we can rely upon no matter the circumstance. They stand with us in good times as well as bad. They validate our intentions and carry our message to others.
We believe writers should think of their characters as best friends, who effectively and clearly convey their plots to readers. The best characters are well developed, expressive in language and action, and carry your story up and down its peaks and valleys to its conclusion.
Characters take on a lot on behalf of their authors. So, it’s not unreasonable that characters should expect authors to work hard for them.
Poorly developed characters simply don’t get the job done. They maroon your plot and leave readers grasping for its direction and definition. It’s clearly in your best interest to provide your characters with the qualities and singularities to get their tasks accomplished.
Clearly describe your characters. Are they audacious or ambiguous? Short or tall? Fetching or plain? Awesome or odious? Treacherous or faithful? Make sure your characters know their roles in the story.
Treat your main and subordinate characters with equal respect. While your major characters carry most of the load in revealing the plot, your supporting cast is critical, too. Establishing the conflict between both will help create the necessary tension and momentum to propel the plot. Conflict moves characters and forces them do things that illustrate who they really are.
Characters act differently when they are under stress. Just like real people, when the pressure is on the sweetest person might lash out or leap from a bridge. Characters need space to change from their usual selves, to threaten, demand, defend, and shed a tear for a lost puppy.
Spell those out for each character.
We’ve spent most of our lives in newsrooms, so it’s not difficult for us to conjure up characters. But there are rich places for you to mine characters as well. You might consider your Facebook friends list, family photo albums, and your high school yearbook. Make a list of the most interesting of these people and write about their personalities, actions, behaviors, and motivations. Recall how they reacted in specific situations.
Take advantage of your recollections of how your friends, family members, neighbors, adversaries, and co-workers reacted and behaved in a variety of circumstances. Some descriptions will be flattering, and some won’t. That’s OK, you can change the names later.
Just remember: Your characters are your friends. Treat them well.
Fran Allred and Mickey Johnson are the owners of We Edit Books, based in Huntington. They have a combined 68 years’ experience as newspaper and book editors in West Virginia and across the South and Midwest. They can be reached at weeditbooks.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.