I Know Them By Heart

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One of the best pieces of advice I got when it comes to writing came courtesy of the internet when I first started working on my manuscript (See. My Book located on the home page). In this pieces of advice, they explained the two most important questions to ask when working on a novel.

A) what does my main character want?

B) How do I stop them from getting it?

Now this is makes sense. The plot of the story should be set up to fit the characters involved. It would be no fun if the Incredible Hulk was never put in a situation that made him angry- who would care then?

With that said, as it’s important to know what your character wants, you first have to know who your character is.

You’d be surprised at how helpful writing a (short) biography for your characters can be. Even if you don’t include half the information in the story, trust me, it somehow bleeds through in your protagonist’s character. Questionnaires are also good to utilize, especial if you don’t know how to prioritize information and don’t feel like writing an entire biography. These typically have a few brief questions which collectively can help you understand your character better.

The most important things to know about your MC is this:

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 Appearance: Have a clear image of what it is your character looks like. I know this might not seem like a big deal, but if you want people to fall in love with them, they have to know them. Appearance can also be an important factory in your character abilities. For instance, if you have a character who is 5’4”, he’s going to struggle in areas that a character whose 6’2” wouldn’t. I speak of this from the point of view of someone who longs to be able to reach those higher shelves at the library without the aid of a stool.

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Abilities and Strength: What your MC can do is very, very important to know as the creator. I’m not just talking about talents such as playing guitar or shooting a bow. What are their mental strengths? Are they good at problem solving? Are they more creative or factual? What abilities do they have emotionally? Can they empathize with others easily? Are they able to make people laugh? Are they good at communication? These are all important things to know when your developing a character.

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Weaknesses and Limitations: Again, very important. Maybe one of the most important. Your characters need flaws (real flaws, not just our typical ‘I’m a perfectionist’ spew we give to potential employers at a job interview). They don’t have to be huge, annoying things but they need some sort of limitation. Maybe it’s their fear of the dark or maybe they talk too much. Regardless, every good story has a character with a weakness which they overcome or temporarily work with to achieve their goal. NOTE: it is important the character’s weakness makes sense and goes along with their personality or experiences.

Knowing everything there is to know about your characters is the only way your readers will truly fall in love with them. If your MC is weak, then even if you have a brilliant plot, most people won’t feel very connected and thus the story is usually a fail.

It may seem tedious at first, but over time, once you start really developing the character, you’ll start to enjoy it. It’s like dating somebody. The more you get to know them, the more relaxed you feel and the more fun you have.

And isn’t that whole point really? We’re not just writers penning words in hopes of lucrative success (if you are, prepare to be disappointed), we’re creators endeavoring to forge emotion and experiences. Take some time to get to know and enjoy what you make. Fall in love with what you do. You’ll write a lot better. Trust me.

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What was the point of having a situation worthy of fiction if the protagonist didn’t behave as he would have done in a book

 Julian Barne

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