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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday Spotlight: Diane Craver

“Creating Memorable Characters”

One of the hardest things to do in writing is to create characters that readers will care about, and will want to read on. You can have a well-written novel but if the editors, agents or readers don’t care that much about your characters, you won’t get very far.

A Memorable Character should have the following attributes:

1. A strong, independent personality.
2. Believable motivation.
3. Consistent behavior.
4. Imagination.
5. Courage to take the initiative.
6. A bigger-than-life image.
7. Human traits - good and bad.

The above traits will develop over the character’s life. In other words, a character usually doesn’t begin her or his novel life having all 7 attributes.

Each writer has their own system in creating their characters. I jot down as much information about each main character as possible - eye color, hair color, and write down a goal for each one. Some authors are more detailed in their approach and use a chart method, filling in vital information. Mine is more a narrative approach. You need to know your characters very well so that you can make them real to the readers.

Character description shouldn’t stop the action. The writer needs to convey description without stopping the flow. I try not to convey description by saying the character stopped and looked in the mirror at his or her appearance. Boring!

A pet peeve of mine is when a writer tries too hard to be different in naming their characters. If the names are hard to remember or I can’t pronounce them, I will become annoyed. But you don’t want to use Mary Doe or John Smith either. Poor usage of character names may signal an amateur writer. Switching between first and last names makes it hard for a reader to learn a new character. For example, referring to a character as “Mary Doe” in the first sentence, then “Mrs. Doe” in the second, then “Mary” in the third will confuse the reader, especially if there are many characters in the scene.

There are drives, strong feelings, and motivations that are common to all of us. We all need to be loved, to get recognition, and to know who we are. When any one of these basic drives is blocked, there is conflict. When you have conflict, whether it is physical, psychological, or spiritual, you have one of the fundamental elements of all fiction. Conflict is what drives fiction. Without conflict, there is no action or reaction.

I love to research occupations for my characters because it’s fun to write about jobs I have never had. Although I was a teacher before starting our family, Mallory in my book, Marrying Mallory, is the only teacher I have for a main character. I’ve used teaching careers for secondary characters. I’ve gone to the library to get books on occupations used for characters, but I also have used the internet for a lot of my background information. I did buy a used book from Amazon on broadcasting for my Whitney in Charge book. I enjoyed reading how a TV program is produced.

It’s not good to launch into the story without stopping to establish any of the characters. In many “high concept” novels, a heated scene occurs immediately without the readers knowing anything about the characters. Readers have to know something about the characters to care what happens to them before the exciting scene happens. The characters are the plot - their needs, wishes, developments. Their introduction and establishment should be the most important. Introducing too many characters in the beginning pages will confuse the reader.

I pay close attention to those around me in my daily life. I remember any interesting or unusual traits or habits that I can use for my characters. Observation is important for a writer. Also what might be interesting to me may not be to someone else. I consider what makes a character intriguing to others. I try to avoid cliché traits and to create unique characters.

While reading or writing, what kind of characters do you enjoy the most?

Please join me tomorrow while we talk about fun summer activities!

Whitney in Charge is available as an ebook for Kindle, Nook, Sony Ereader, Kobo through various outlets.
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Destiny Booze, Novelist said...

I enjoy a strong feminine lead the most. Do you suppose that has anything to do with my desire to be Super Woman?

Great post with some great advice on characterization, Diane!

Diane Craver said...

I think you're definitely a super woman. Glad it carries over in your writing!

I also like strong women - maybe it's because we were blessed with 5daughters.

Linda Swift said...

Yes, definitely, strong women are a must in books I write because I want the reader to identiy with them as role models, not pity them for being doormats.
Great article,Diane.
Sorry I'm late reading it.

Diane Craver said...

Thanks for your input, Linda! I agree - having women be doormats is out of the question in fiction.

Hey, you aren't too late. I'm on digest so I'm always late when I visit blogs.