9 Ways to Write Characters Readers Will Love #amwriting #writerwednesday

Hey word-makers!

I’m back after a little blogging break and ready to ring in the New Year real proper like. I hope that your holidays were happy and if they weren’t happy, at least they’re over, right?

Right.

So let’s dive back into my favorite writing topic: CHARACTERS. I swear I’m gonna get off of them one day, but that day ain’t today.

copy of i have writer's block

I recently received a review for In Her Closet that spoke to my little writer heart. Here’s part of the review:

“I found Yves to be unlikable but in a very relatable way. The sort of woman who most women wished they could be or are afraid of becoming. She did what she wanted, had sex when she wanted and in the words on Destiny’s Child Independent part two-She did them boys like they used to do her. I wish there were more heroines like this, but I know the reason there aren’t.”

*FIST PUMP*

That shit right there made me so happy, you guys. I’ve stated before that when I wrote Yves Santiago it was with the exact intention to give her all of the “negative” traits that we often see in romance heroes. Traits that we easily forgive once he falls in love because love redeems all things. I wanted to know if we would feel the same about a heroine. It feels good to know that I was successful.

However, as much as I have championed purposely breaking the stereotype and suggesting some ways to make unlikeable characters more relatable, I realize that this is a difficult task. Not everyone wants to do that, nor is every story meant to have an out-of-the-box character. Sometimes you just need a Joe Schmoe or a regular-smegular girl.

But no two readers are alike so, how can you encourage empathy for your character?

9 Ways to Write Characters Readers Will Love

1. Make them pretty. I’m gonna go ahead and tackle this one first because it’s really the easiest way to get this done.

None of us wants to admit that we’re this shallow, but there are literally thousands of books and movies out there to prove us wrong. Screenwriters and filmmakers have it easy. All they have to do is throw Trevante Rhodes up on the screen and instantly we’re all dialed in.

Oh, that was just me?

My bad.

But like I said, they only need to trot out a physically attractive person to get the viewer’s attention. A novelist doesn’t have that option so we have to be more deliberate. We have to describe the character in a way that suggests attractiveness. We do that by showing how other characters respond to that attractiveness. Maybe we wax a little poetic about the timbre of a hero’s voice or how flustered and shy he becomes under our heroines advances. The secondary and tertiary characters that they interact with can compliment their looks or express jealousy or envy because they won the genetic lottery.

However, it’s important to be careful with this because you can turn off a certain segment of readers who are sick to death of reading about incredibly attractive people. I must admit that I feel this way about blond-haired, blue-eyed, heroes and heroines. There are so many blond and blue-eyed characters in romance that one would swear the bulk of romances were written in Scandinavia. Yes, our shallow asses love to read about someone who is not only attractive to us but is attractive to the people in the world you have created. Just shy away from too much sameness when you’re describing them.

2. Make them a victim/savior/martyr. These three things can be used as plot devices to raise the stakes and increase tension, but depicting any character in this way can also make your reader interested in their journey.

A victim will be pitied and the reader will hope that they are ultimately delivered from their suffering. When writing victims there is some danger of making them appear weak, but you can combat this by illustrating that they had no choice and give them either the courage to endure or make them brave enough to rescue themselves. If they are a victim of psychological or emotional abuse, you have to make sure you really explain why they can’t just leave their situation.

A savior will always be the hero of a story. There’s not much you can do wrong here. Your reader will undoubtedly admire their courage to accept responsibility for others and take care of the people they love. However, the savior can look reckless and foolhardy if he rushes into the conflict in a way that makes everything worse or only interfering just enough to seem like a meddler instead of a true hero.

The martyr is probably the most difficult of these to do well. Sacrifice doesn’t always win sympathy, especially when or if the reader feels like it was a needless sacrifice. There must be some reason for it beyond being noble or admired for that alone. Your character must really have no other choice but to make that sacrifice. It also needs to make a significant and positive difference in the lives of the supporting characters.

3. Give them plans, purpose, ambition, and dreams. A lot of newbie authors make the mistake of letting the story happen to their characters versus letting their characters actions drive the plot. This creates a character with no initiative who seems to be pushed around by the plot until the writer runs out of things to put them through and decides to write “the end.” The best way to combat this is to always have your character arrive on the page with a purpose or plan. This way, when the plot point is presented you have a thing that your character is trying to achieve.

In addition to plans and purpose, if you’re treating your characters as real people they will have hopes, dreams, and hopefully, ambitions. These are easy things to get your reader to sympathize with–especially if you ground them in the five categories of human desire. These are things that every human needs to survive and thrive. Your reader will identify with them even more if your character puts great importance on that dream or desire.

If your story is about your characters plan—also called a quest—you characters journey toward obtaining their goal is immediately sympathetic. This is why we root for Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen, and even characters like Dexter Morgan or the murderous and deceitful heroes of dark romances. We get caught up in their plans and dreams even when those things are appalling or criminal.

4. Make them risk it all. Real tension and conflict are created when your character has something to lose. Be it a social, physical, or financial risk, make them do what is right or necessary in pursuit of their goals—even up to breaking the law or turning a blind eye when someone else commits a crime. From that moment on, their fate is tied to that person or event and we will root for them to overcome it.

In that risk, however, there must be some sense of fairness. They shouldn’t be sneaky, underhanded, or a cheater just for the sake of presenting some sort of negative trait that they have to overcome. That won’t garner much sympathy. Readers will respond to a character who is brave and at least attempts to play fair, but will find it difficult to connect with a character who is morally bankrupt.

5. Make them a positive and optimistic. Your characters attitude toward other people, their inner dialogue with themselves, and their approach to the plot points in the story can sway the reader from ambivalence to like. A character who takes responsibility for their mistakes, responds to their trials and tribulations with self-deprecating humor, and always strives to improve themselves will show your reader a struggle that they recognize. We’re all trying to be better people, aren’t we? And in that way, your character is just like us. A character that is written the complete opposite way can also be endearing, but the ones who feel, think, and struggle just like us are the ones that we love to love.

6. Make them selfless. Doing a courageous thing without seeking recognition is probably one of the most difficult things to do in real life, so it would definitely be commendable in a fictional character. This is not something they should be forced into, it shouldn’t bring them fame or fortune, and should be approached with modesty, and humility. Selflessness is a form of sacrifice, so of course, it will garner sympathy.

7. Make them dependable and reliable. In the words of Tony Montana, “all I have in this world is my balls and my word and I won’t break them for no one.” A character who is a good guy, who keeps his word no matter what, will be easy to fall in love with. Especially when everything and everyone tries to make their word impossible to keep. Never underestimate the impact of a promise. Promises kept and promises broken are a reoccurring theme in fiction.

8. Make them clever. This is different from intelligence because intelligence can be misinterpreted as elitist or snobbish. Clever is being smart without flaunting your intelligence. It’s using your street smarts to get out of sticky situations. It’s conquering a situation with self-confidence and being surprised that it works. Readers love a character who solves a problem with exactly the right facts when they need them, but they don’t like a pompous know-it-all that flaunts that knowledge.

9. Make them perfectly imperfect. Now that I’ve given you a long list of squeaky clean, perfect characteristics that we love to love, now I’m going to tell you to give them some imperfections. Your character needs some flaws or they won’t have anything to overcome and your reader will have nothing to root for. So scuff them up a little bit. Make them a smoker. Make them brutally honest. Give them anxiety or a deep-rooted need to always drink green smoothies for breakfast whilst complaining about how awful they taste. Dig into their backstory and give them a limiting belief that makes them feel real.

Well, that’s it, wordmaker!

I hope you find these 9 tips useful and that they help you create a character that your readers will love to love!

Until next week,

Happy writing!

Tasha

 

 

11 Days & 11 Ways to Plot Your Novel: Positive, Negative, and Flat Character Arcs #NaNoWriMoPrep #amwriting

11 ways to plot a novel

11 days, 11 Ways to Plot a Novel is a series! If you’d like to begin at the beginning, start here:

Dent’s Master Plot

Well’s 7 Point Plot Structure

Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method

Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet

Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey

Rider-Waite_Smith Fool’s Journey

Christopher Vogel’s Writer’s Journey

John Truby’s 22 Step Structure

The New and Improved Gary Provost Paragraph


Crafting a good character arc that is seamlessly woven into the structure and theme of your story is a fundamental skill that every author should perfect.

When done well, a character arc can highlight your character’s journey through the tests and trials that they must face to overcome their central problem. Character arcs pinpoint the inner conflict that your protagonist must confront at the climax and gives you the foundation you need to show your reader how they will overcome it. Romances, in particular are greatly improved by a strong charcater arc. The bad boy gets redeemed. The shy virgin claims his sexuality. The alphahole gets his ass handed to him and falls in love with an equally alpha woman. The tropes are favorites because the reader knows that they can expect a journey from who the character is in the beginning to who they become in the end. Readers open your book because they want to see that growth.

And for the kissing, of course.

Story structure & your character’s arc

The character arc of your protagonist should influence the plot. In a three-act plot structure, the midpoint marks a turning point in the external conflict, it should also be the culmination of your character’s first series of tests and the big truth that changes their goals. Without this shift, your character and your plot won’t move forward. This isn’t confined to the midpoint. Every plot point should correspond with a test or conflict in your protagonist’s character arc. If your heroine is tested by a difficult task at work and is reprimanded by her boss, her reaction should correspond with some shortcoming or long held belief she thinks defines her. This is true for your secondary characters as well.

There are three types of character arcs: positive, negative, and flat.

Positive and negative arcs are sometimes known as “change arcs” while flat arcs feature a character that doesn’t have any big internal shifts, but seeks to change the world around them.

Let’s start with positive arcs.

Positive arcs provide your protagonist with a story of success, overpowering the odds, and growing past their flaws. Your reader will root for this protagonist and want to see them succeed, and when they close the book, they’re left with warm and fuzzy feelings.

This one of the most common arcs and with good reason!

Positive Arcs in a Three Act Structure

Act 1: Your protagonist is introduced to the reader with a glimpse of their “normal day.” Your character begins the story in a state of discontent because they refuse to deal with or even acknowledge their central problem.

The external conflict forces your protagonist to acknowledge their central problem—either consciously or subconsciously. The inciting incident and the first plot point initiates the first initial shift that signals your character’s path to growth.

Act 2: This is where the bulk of your story (all of the kissing and sexy times) and your protagonist’s character arc occurs. A series of tests and trials, they reveal the big truth that contrasts their central problem. They can’t succeed and your story can’t move forward if your protagonist doesn’t accept it.

At the midpoint obstacle, your protagonist convinces themselves. that they’re capable of handling the central problem without acknowledging the big truth because it seems easier than confronting it. The third plot point pitches your protagonist into their dark night of the soul—the moment when the internal conflict and the external conflict conspire to break them all the way down to nothing. The antagonist seems to have won, and your protagonist is forced to choose—accept their big truth and win the day, or go back to their life of discontent, trapped by their central problem and doomed to fail at life.

Act 3: The Final Act of your story and the culmination of your protagonist’s character arc reaches its crescendo. To win the day and complete a positive character arc, it’s time to accept the big truth. The climactic moment is the final test that pushes them to overcome their central problem, shows that they have grown, and then triumph over the antagonist.

The resolution marks a new stage your protagonist’s character arc. The end should contrast the beginning of their journey and demonstrate how your protagonist’s arc has impacted their life and those around them.

Negative Character Arcs in a Three-Act Structure

The negative arc is meant to illustrate our protagonist’s unwillingness to grow.

Act 1: Your protagonist’s central problem is revealed. They struggle against it and they are presented with an opportunity to resolve it.

Act 2: This act begins the divergence of positive and negative arcs. In the positive arc, your protagonist would discover the big truth that contrasts with their central problem, in the negative character arc, your protagonist is unable or unwilling to do so. Each failure makes them retreat deeper and deeper into the the flaws and wounds that they are trying to escape.

The midpoint is the incident propels them toward the big truth, and seem to find a solution. They act on this “solution” but because they have ignored the truth. They meet a dark moment and that darkness is permanent.

Act 3: In the third and final act, your protagonist fails to triumph over the antagonist. Unable to accept the truth, they succumb to the flaws and wounds they had when they began the story. There is no chance for redemption and they embody the central problem as if it has become the only thing that defines them.

Use of positive and negative character arcs can tie important parts of your story together so that it feels cohesive. As a result, your protagonist will be an active participant in your story and feel relatable.

Flat Character Arcs in a Three-Act Structure:

Flat arcs don’t focus on character growth or change, but they serve a purpose nonetheless. The flat arc focuses on a character who has already discovered their big truth, overcome their central problem, and learned to accept it. The difference is, she must hold on to her inner truth, act on it, and share it into the world around her.

Act 1: The beginning of a flat arc introduces the community that your protagonist lives in. They often seem separate from their world. The people around them don’t understand and won’t accept the truth, which makes your protagonist’s actions foreign to them as well. Your protagonist may hide or deny the truth to shield themselves from judgment.

Act 2: This act progresses pretty much the same as a positive arc with your protagonist struggling through tests and trials. Instead of overcoming the central problem, they are putting their truth to the test and using it to resolve a variety of conflicts in order to reveal the central problem of the world around them.

The midpoint proves your protagonist’s truth by revealing key information. That doesn’t make believing this truth any easier. The third plot point is still a dark night of the soul for your protagonist. In this moment, it appears that all they worked toward is lost and they are forced to either give up or risk everything and continue. This is not an easy decision and choosing to continue means that they must make a great sacrifice.

Act 3: The flat character arc ends much the same way as the positive arc with your protagonist face to face with a final conflict based on the central truth plaguing their community or environment. Upholding this truth will move them past this problem and help them to overcome the external conflict.

The resolution focuses on the effects of your protagonist’s sacrifice and success, often offering a glimpse of how the community has healed because of your protagonist’s influence. This gives the reader an opportunity to appreciate the change.

Flat arcs are a powerful way to convey themes and alternate perspectives in the world that you have created.

Well, that’s the last 11 Days & 11 Ways entry.

It’s been a journey (pun intended) and I hope you all found some sort of benefit in it and have decided on a way to plot your book for #NaNoWriMo2018!

Happy Writing!

Tasha

Sample Sunday: The Rose & The Thorn

He led her down the stairs, but instead of talking her toward the well lit pedestrian bridge, he directed his steps toward the darker end of the park at the bottom of the waterfall. Down a path that connected it to another city park, all of them part of a trail that stretched from the center of the city out to to the mountains. They strolled in comfortable silence; holding hands and sharing licks of the ice cream cone. Soon they found themselves in a remote place between the two parks. Finally feeling a bit tired from all the walking, Estelle sat on a stone wall to rest her feet. Deacon finished the last of the cone and dropped it in a nearby trashcan. He made his way back to her, licking the sticky remains off of his fingers.

“Eww. Don’t lick your fingers! Here.” Estelle dug out a pack of antibacterial wipes out of her bag, yanked one out, and proceeded to clean his hands.

A wicked smile spread across his face as she fussed over his dirty hands.

“What?” Estelle asked.

“Do you remember that time your roommate got the flu in college?” he asked.

“Monet?”

“Dark skin? Always had those impeccable box braids?”

Estelle smiled. “Yeah. That was Monet.”

“Anyway, do you remember that time she got the flu and didn’t leave your room for a week?”

She nodded. “Which meant our time together was limited too because lord knows I wasn’t going back to your room.”

Deacon chuckled and shook his head. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“It smelled like ass, dirty socks, corn chips, and old beef jerky in there.”

“That is…very specific.”

“And hard to forget. Stepping into that room triggered my gag reflex.”

“So bougie…” he said shaking his head in faux disdain.

“Whatever. I wasn’t about to risk contracting some flesh eating staph disease from being in there.”

“Are you done? You gonna let me finish?”

“Go ahead. Finish your story,” she said.

“So we went almost eleven days without fucking when she had that

flu. I showed up at your dorm room real late one night, remember? Remember we took that walk?” He put his hands on her thighs and inched up the hem of her dress to reveal her bare knees.

Estelle parted her legs so that he could wedge himself between them and draped her arms over his shoulders. “The one that ended in some remote part of campus that I’d never been to? And you sat me on a stone wall kinda like this?”

“I did.”

“And then you kissed me and somehow convinced me to have sex in the out of doors.”

“I did that, too.”

Deacon slid his hands under her dress and up her bare thighs. Her skin pebbled under his touch.

“Not being able to make love to you for a week felt like agony back then.”

“So what changed? Why doesn’t it feel like agony now?”

Thanks for reading and happy Sunday!

Tasha