What do readers want from character? They want entertainment. They want to feel empathy. Above all, they want your character writing to feel alive. Here are our three killer tips on how to achieve that.
1. Know your characters.
A massive issue. Listen to the difference between this:
Karen felt herself getting angry. Her cheeks flushed and she began to pound the table and shout.
Karen felt herself getting quieter and quieter. Her throat felt constricted and dry. She wanted to get up to get another Diet Coke except that she wouldn’t give him the pleasure of seeing her agitated. Instead, she forced herself to quieten down. The calmer she was, the more he hated it.
The first Karen is just too bland, too generic – too much like every crummy TV actor getting angry for the camera. The second Karen is not like that. She gets angry in her way, nobody else’s. The writer can write that second character because he/she knows who they’re writing about. They KNOW Karen. So tip one is simply this: the miore intimately you know your character, the better you will write about them. And if you want to know your character perfectly, then try this exercise.
2. Give your characters a hard time
If you want to create empathy with your characters, then give them a rough time. PLunge them into a turbulent world early on and don’t let up till the end. It’s sounds so simple, but quite honestly you have at least 50% of good character writing right there. Even a relatively bland, cliched character will cause readers to turn the page if we really feel that character’s predicament. After all, do you really remember much about the hero in a Patterson novel? DO you remember much about the heroine in The Devil Wears Prada? We doubt it. What keeps you reading is the turbulence that surrounds that person. So be nasty. Your fiction needs it! And if you need plotting tips – which is basically how to create turbulence round your characters – then you can get them here and here.
3. Give your characters inner life
Another classic mistake is to concentrate so hard on describing what your character is saying / doing / seeing … that you forget to say what they’re thinking, feeling, remembering, sensing. And you need to combine all these things to create a vivid and lifelike experience of being some other person. One brilliant tip is to read a page of your work and underline everything that’s about your character’s inner world. If you go page after page with nothing much underlined, then you’ve got a problem. And it’s easy to fix it – just make sure to tell the reader about your character’s inner life. So simple, but so powerful. You can get more info on this tip here.
4. I know we only said three tips …
… but here’s a fourth anyway. You can only get so much from the internet. Really, you’ll build to the next level if you can get one-to-one feedback on your work from a pro writer. That’s something we can offer. If you’re more of a beginner, then try a writing course (which you can do from home, at times to suit yourself.) If you’ve already got a manuscript that you want feedback on, then for heaven’s sake go and get it. Either way, you’ll get a pro author looking at your work and giving you the guidance that you personally need to develop from where you are.