Strong Characters are Everything When It Comes to Writing Excellent Fiction.
And you have to take the time to develop them in ways that make them realistic, dynamic, and completely three-dimensional for your readers.
Focusing so heavily on my characters was something I never used to think about much, and instead, I mostly let the story rule the day. Yes, I tried to always give my characters specific qualities and traits. Yes, I even tried to make my supporting characters who only appear in a few scenes pop off the page for the reader.
But it wasn’t until I thought critically about how to give my characters more life on the page that my writing started to take shape in ways it never had before. Because you have to remember how important character is. It doesn’t matter how exciting your plot might be or how much of a hook your high concept might have. Character should rule the day always, not the story.
Here’s something you can do that might help: when you think of each of your characters, not only the protagonist, as in a way having a camera pointed at him or her, as being the center of his or her own universe, you begin to understand as a writer the necessity to not just put all the hard work into developing your main character to a reasonable degree and then merely sketching the side characters.
Once you put hard work into developing all of your characters in ways where you understand their viewpoints, their motivations, their desires, and what’s keeping them from their goals, in one scene after another, your fiction becomes incredibly richer.
Having better characters helps your fiction in so many ways. The dialogue becomes stronger. The conflicts become more dynamic. And your characters slowly begin to take on lives of their own, which is exactly what you want to have happen!
Each of Us is the Protagonist of Our Own Life, and You Want to Think This Way about Your Fiction, Too.
It’s such a weird way to think, isn’t it? Yes, we care about other people. Yes, we do things throughout our days for others. Especially in times like we’re in right now, we’re spending a whole lot of time thinking about family and friends and trying to be as selfless as we possibly can.
But essentially from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, we are the star of the show. The camera is pointed at us every second of our lives. We are living our own story, and we don’t have the kind of access to other lives as we do to our own.
This is why fiction is so important as an art-form. And it’s why you have to give all your characters, not just some of your characters, their time to shine. That includes your supporting characters. That includes your antagonist.
That includes the character who has exactly one scene and three lines of dialogue in chapter twenty. Even characters with tiny, tiny bit parts in your stories should have a viewpoint that makes sense for the reader and that comes from a place of reality.
It might not be easy for you to develop your characters perfectly in the first draft — trust me, none of us gets it right in the first draft — but when you go about the revision process, pay close attention to how your characters act and behave, not just how the protagonist acts and behaves.
I had a literary agent once give me a super helpful exercise to go through my latest work-in-progress and look at each scene from the perspective of every character that plays an important role in that scene. That’s right — every single character.
The exercise was difficult and time-consuming, and it even frustrated me at times, but I believe going through this process made the novel all the better — and it will absolutely help your short story or novel, too!
Here’s the truth of the matter: it’s not enough to see the world of your story only through your protagonist. Yes, even if your book is written in the first person.
Just because there’s one central viewpoint in your story doesn’t mean all the other characters should be vaguely drawn on the page. Make them specific. Understand their point of view. Give them life!
Start looking at the world through all of your characters, and there’s no telling how much your fiction will improve.
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