Writing Advice: The Characters


As I’ve said before on this blog, I consider characters to be immensely important. When I’m reading or watching something, I want the characters to be written in a way that makes me care about them. I want to be invested in them as people even though they’re only fictional. The fact that you can care about a character means that they have been written well, and I think it’s something that all writers should strive for. Yes, plot and other elements of a story are important, but characters are what will make a reader become attached to the story that you write.

With that in mind, I want to talk about something that Brunonia Barry mentions in her post on Writer Unboxed, “10 Tips about Process.” Barry says that it is important to listen to your characters when you’re writing a story. She writes, “What does each character want? What’s keeping her from getting it? If I put the right characters in a situation and understand what motivates them, the plot seems to develop naturally. If I’m trying to control the outcome instead of listening, the story always falls flat.”

That last sentence is the most important one, I think. As weird as it may sound, your characters can definitely “talk” to you and sometimes it’s essential that you listen to what they have to say because they can steer you in the right direction. This might be one of those situations in which you have to abandon a carefully constructed outline. Although you had a vision for the end of your story, it’s very possible that your characters won’t want to go there.

I think we’ve all experienced this while writing. You’re in the middle of a scene, trying to make it work, and you suddenly feel as though you’re forcing it. Instead of feeling organic and real, the scene feels like you’ve stood your characters up as set pieces and are just making them go through the motions and say the lines you’re writing for them. The best writing feels organic and free as you’re writing it, and it should come out that way on the other end for readers.

So listen to your characters! You created them and now they know where they should be headed. When you feel like you’re forcing a scene, just take a step back and think about what your characters needs or wants to be doing in your scene. Then go with that and see if things flow a bit better. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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