10 Steps To Writing A Novel – Step 1: Get To Grips With Your Characters

As a writer (well I could be classed as a wannabe since I haven’t been published yet but I have a completed manuscript – mark 1 and it all depends on your views) I decided it would be a good idea to pass on some of my knowledge about writing a story to aspiring writers. This advice may not work for you, it all depends on the kind of writer you are. Personally, I conform to very few of the ‘writing rules’ you will find posted around the web. Writing is an art like painting or sculpting; you can’t make rules on how to do it, it’s just a matter of taste. Really there are only two rules in writing. Grammar and spelling, though the two play no part in dialogue (we’ll get to that in the dialogue step).

So here’s step 1 of my advice to you and it’s up to you whether or not you take it. Like I said it’s down to you and your writing style.

Getting To Grips with Characters

I’ve been writing for at least ten years (that’s since I was in primary school – Year 4 I started writing stories about the adventures of my TY beanie Pecan) and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that characters can make or break a story. Sure, without a good storyline and decent enough writing good characters mean very little but that doesn’t mean that they deserve less attention than the rest of the novel. So here’s Jess’s quick tips on creating a character.

Making a Believable Character

The most important thing in creating a character is making them believable. When you create a character it should be like creating a new life without the sex, physical pain and swollen ankles. You have to believe that they are real or the readers won’t believe it. I’m not saying that you need to believe that they’re going to pop in off the street and ask you out for coffee, what I mean is you have to believe that they could be a real person with real feelings.

Your character is a real person with real feelings

Imagine having a friend called Bob and you have control of his life but he still retains his free will. You send Bob off after a cute little Blonde, but Bob doesn’t want the Blonde because he likes Brunettes or maybe he does like Blondes but he’d rather go for the tall handsome Blonde in the corner with big muscles. The point is, Bob would not respond to your whim because he has a free will and doesn’t like what you’re trying to make him do. It’s the same with characters (and trust me on this it’s happened to both me and my friend) if they don’t like what you’re asking them to do they’ll curse you with writer’s block. Every time this happened to me I committed the Cardinal sin and re-wrote the whole story just to fix the one bit that my characters were none too fond of.

Flesh Them Out

I don’t mean give them all huge rippling muscles or make them all hugely fat that would be silly (but possibly hilarious if you were going for that comedic style). What I mean is give them a background. For example, one of my characters (a man named Kain) is afraid of horses. This point rarely comes up in the story but the fact that it’s there gives him depth. I even have a back story ready as to why he’s afraid of horses. The complexity of your character’s background should match the complexity of your character. My main character, Emma, has really quite a complex personality and you can understand why when you look at her background. Basically, without a good background you can’t really put traits onto your characters unless you go backwards and choose the traits, then figure out why they’re the way they are.


Personality. Without it we’d all be pretty boring right? Well so would our characters. But to make a really unique character you have to think outside the box and do what is rarely done. My main character is not your chivalrous type, nor is she particularly law-abiding or sensitive. She is, in fact, completely unhinged. People always say that you should be able to relate to the main character, I say not necessarily. As long as you can relate to at least one prominent character it all works out because people still have someone they can relate to whilst reading about the antics of someone deemed criminally insane (at this point I would like to point out that my book is of a fantasy genre and it’s characters are not based on anyone in real life).

Anyway, back to my point on personality. Having the pure and innocent boy hero or the cheeky, yet handsome rogue is a tad cliché, so unless you’re writing a comedy and want to write all the clichés or have other characters to balance it out I wouldn’t go there (although I realised that I had written about a farm-boy with a talent for swordsmanship – in my defense he did work really hard and went to a fighting academy). Imagine a hero who was a hypochondriac or afraid of blood, or even someone who was sex obsessed and could barely concentrate on fighting because of it. The possibilities are endless.

Have Fun

Remember, writing a story isn’t about rules, it’s about expressing yourself through adventure and other people’s lives. It’s supposed to be enjoyable, so that’s my one rule for you. Just enjoy it because when it’s over it’s a really strange feeling. I loved and nurtured my characters for three years and last year I finished what I thought was my final draft and it was really sad. And that’s what your characters should do; make people feel. Even if just one person feels something when your character has its heart broken or wins the fight and gets the girl/guy or even dies then that character was successful. Just remember that you are not obliged to follow this advice because that’s all it is, advice. Do want you feel is best and have a good time doing it.

So go, have fun and keep your characters alive.

~ by Jess Wiles on January 31, 2011.

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