Novel Building Blocks: Character Matters - article

What do I want? This is one of the mythic questions and is central to creating a character a reader will follow for some 200 pages or more, hopefully eschewing sleep to finish the novel. Powerful characters need goals and dreams. They need proper motivation. Writers have their job cut out for them.

Writers have to understand what drives human behavior. A writer has to slip inside their characters and understand what makes them get up the morning. What does their character believe in? What is unreliable about their character?

The author must develop a full picture of how a character typically acts. It’s a confining view and must fully illustrate the idea to “be true to yourself.” The character must be so completely realized that the author is sensitive to the way this character acts in any circumstance. The author must reach the point that he understands what would be “out of character” for their character. Only this intimate sort of knowledge provides a proper foundation to communicate the current goals and dreams of a character.

The way a character is revealed in a novel is through choices. Choices are based on motivations. One core motivator comes from what happened to a character when he was a child. Smart authors will create a back story. Though none of this back story appears in the novel, the effects of it appear. Perhaps a character was raised in chaotic home. In the present timeline of the story, the character might make a decision to create order based on his chaotic childhood.

Understanding a character’s inner makeup is important in offering authenticity. There are many personality tests online. In a search to create an authentic character, many novelists take these personality tests for their characters. These tests can offer extensive insight into the psyche of a character and reveal whether she is an introvert or an extrovert, whether she’s scatterbrained, intuitive or a concrete thinker. These personality traits will guide a character’s goals. A scatterbrained intuitive character’s goals would differ greatly from an organized concrete thinker’s character in the same situation.

An author must go very deep into the psyches of their characters. It’s important to know what a character fears and what the character loves. What does he hate? The character’s belief system is important. What does he think is holy? What does he think is profane? In the end, the pathway to the answer of “What does a character want?” lies in the second mythic question, “Who is the character?” True motivation will spring from knowing “the who” of a character. Nailing down your character’s personality and then understanding what your character will do in any given situation will seem almost trivial. Of course, your character will save the day, because that’s just the kind of person he is.

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  • I do relate to this. It is so encouraging. It's like seeing in print everything I am attempting to do in my first novel. Thank you Molly.
  • It's important to REALLY know your character inside and out. TY for the advice.
  • Former Member
    Former Member
    Congratulations on "Guys" coming out this spring. Good luck to you!
  • Thanks for your thoughts. Since the writer creates the fictional characters, they can lead them in & out of character, creating excitement suspense, surprise ... wonder what's going to happen? vs ...I knew that would happen. BIG challenge! Check "GUYS", out in April/May,for interesting characters :-)