Friday, June 1, 2012

A Writer's Words - Character Development

Character Development
By Still Moments Publishing’s
Senior Editor, AJ Nuest
I’m going to give you the cold, hard facts about what it takes to get published. No namby-pamby sugar coated instructions here. If you’re looking for that, find a nice critique partner who will tell you everything you write belongs on the NYTimes Bestseller list.

You should also keep in mind these suggestions are mine. Not every single editor has the same opinion. I am also going to take a leap of faith and assume you already know your work should be free of grammatical errors. Misspelled words, repeated punctuation blunders, and glaring misuse of the English language are all huge no-no’s. No editor will read past the first paragraph if your manuscript is full of mistakes. That being said, got those pens ready? Okay, brace yourself.

The number one most important thing in prepping a submission is character development. The harsh truth is a lot more goes into developing characters than sitting down at the computer and describing their physical attributes. And if your characters end up being flimsy two-dimensional individuals who lay flat on the page, the story will get rejected. Whenever characters lack motivation or act contrary their previously developed personality, this misdirection raises several red flags for the editor.

Let’s talk motivation for a second. Nothing irks this editor more than a hero and/or heroine who are running around inside a story without any forward momentum or direction. Time to face facts. If your heroine says, thinks, or does one thing, and then completely contradicts what she just said, thought, or did with her actions, she's going to appear as if she doesn't know what she wants. Consequently, neither will the reader. I refer to this as Spineless Twit Syndrome. It is imperative that both the hero and heroine have a strong underlying motivation, because this motivating force ultimately initiates and influences their actions, verbiage, and attitude. If your characters don’t have a motivating force, y’all ain’t gotta story. Sorry, the manuscript is rejected.

Contrary behavior, on the other hand, usually occurs during those moments when the author is hoping to create some sort of conflict or tension between their characters. While this can be difficult, certain steps must be followed or your characters will most certainly come off like psychopaths. The absolute worst thing an author can do is try to create tension by forcing their characters to act in a different or opposing manner than what they’ve already established. So, if you’re writing and you suddenly discover you need one of your characters to take a certain action that would otherwise seem contrary, go back and insert another level of development into their personality. Don’t cheat and have them do something that doesn’t make any sense, thinking it’ll work just because you wrote the words down. You need to explain why they are acting in such a strange manner.

Example: If your historical romance contains a shy, mousy slip-of-a-heroine who avoids conflict like the plague, and she inexplicably marches up to the mountainous hero and slaps his face, the story gets rejected.

Example: If the entire plot of your romantic suspense hinges on the fact that your heroine is terrified of heights, and then one day she suddenly decides to go skydiving because it’s a glorious day outside, the story gets reject.

I don’t mean to harp, but think about it. These characters would never do that. (And trust me, these examples are minor compared to some of the character inconsistencies I’ve seen.)

So, how does an author achieve original, motivated, three-dimensional characters, you ask? Great question!

First, ‘know your character’! And I don’t mean imagine what they look like and how they dress. These are important decisions, yes, but I’m not talking about physical characteristics. I mean ‘know who they are’. Let them ramble around inside your head for a while so all of you become friends. Create a past for them, a family. Envision the house they grew up in and where they went to school. Ask yourself, what is their most painful memory? Who is the person they hate the most? What actions do they take to comfort themselves? Many things go into making up a personality besides hair and eye color.

Second, and only after you know your characters intimately, create a believable conflict that will follow them throughout the story, by using their motivation as the key.

Hero: Motivation is Money (security). He needs to make more money and save the family business so his feeble grandmother isn’t left homeless.

Heroine: Motivation is Nurture (to be needed). She moves in to care for said grandmother and soon becomes emotionally attached.

With just this little bit of character definition, we can already imagine several conflicts. Maybe the heroine doesn’t understand why the hero is constantly absent from his ailing grandmother’s side. The deeper her connection to the grandmother-the stronger her dislike toward the hero. She doesn’t realize his only reason for being gone is to ultimately save his grandmother.

She only sees his brutal business tactics, his cutthroat determination to make a buck regardless of who gets trampled in the process. Embarrassed he’s in such a precarious financial situation, the hero doesn’t appreciate being judged by the heroine. Her spit-fire attitude and quick defense of his last living family member cuts him to the quick. He prolongs telling her the truth, worried that if she finds out the real reason behind his desperation she’ll judge him a fool.

With clear, defined motivations, your characters will develop, the story will flow, verbiage basically writes itself, and the reader will have an easier time connecting with the story.

Coming soon: Emotional Impact.

 © 2011 AJ Nuest
All Rights Reserved
Award winning author and editor, AJ Nuest, lives in NW Indiana with her loving husband, two beautiful children, two dogs and a cat that can do no wrong. Her guilty pleasures include big gaudy rings, movie marathons, cuddling and chocolate. To view the latest hub-bub related to all things AJ please visit:


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