Welcome to an entire month of Top 5 Tips for Authors!
Every day this month my friends and I will bring you a new set of Top 5 Tips to help you along on your author journey. 2017 was a year of change in the Indie author world for sure. So many happenings. So many new things to learn. So many old things that didn’t quite do what you’d hoped. Well, every day is a new day. And every year is a new year. So we hope that this month’s worth of tips will get you the kick start you need to make 2018 your best yet and please feel free to ask questions and leave comments.
My next generous friend helping me out with the tips is Brenna Aubrey. Brenna is a USA TODAY Bestselling Author of contemporary romance stories about smart people, nerds and geek culture. Brenna is a city girl with a nature-lover’s heart. She therefore finds herself out in green open spaces any chance she can get. She currently resides in Southern California with her family. You can find her on her WEBSITE HERE and on AMAZON HERE.
So you’ve developed the perfect hook for your book, a great setting, awesome plot points, etc. You’re all set, right?
Wrong! Stories are about people and the more well developed, rounded and realistic they are, the more powerful your story is going to be. Why have wafer-thin paper dolls wandering around your storyline when you can have awesome, three-dimensional real beings inhabit them instead?
Your character shouldn’t read like he/she just sprouted off your page yesterday.
Here are the things he/she needs to pop off that page…
1. Your character needs a past
Whatever method you use to develop it, your character needs to have had a life that led up to the point of the start of the novel. Who were his parents? Who are her siblings? What were her dreams as a child? What were his greatest disappointments? These things matter and go into the shaping of who they are. Whether you learn these things by using bullet point lists (“15 things about this character’s education/formative years/parents, etc.”) or filling out a chart, or writing an autobiography about his/her life up until this point. Whichever way you develop it, you need to have a feel for this person’s past.
Which leads to that character’s inner wound or “wrong thinking”—this comes in handy later when developing the character arc (see below). This character needs a reason for his wrong thinking. What wrong idea about life, love, or happiness does that character carry with her into the beginning of the story? What lesson is he going to learn by the end of it?
2. Your character needs a present.
As the story starts, your character needs to be working toward something. This comes in the form of her present reality. What is his goal? Why does she want that goal so badly? What stands in the way of him achieving that goal?
The reader needs to feel that desire and urgency as strongly as the character does. That is the engine that drives the reader to swipe the next page, and the next one. Each scene has to have a reason to be—to show that goal, that motivation, or that conflict. Bonus points if your scenes show more than one or, better yet, all three!
3. Your character needs a future.
Your character starts in a place of “wrong thinking”—an idea of how the world works that stands in the way of her achieving love or happiness. But as the story progresses, he has to learn that that way of thinking is not correct. Through hard lessons in the plot the character grows, progresses into a stronger, happier individual as a result of his arc.
This arc sets the course for your characters’ future, her happily ever after. And this comes about by learning that his present understanding of the world was wrong. She must now conduct her life according to her new paradigm.
We leave the story with the understanding that because the character has learned this lesson, he will now have his happily ever after.
4. You character needs connections.
No character is an island. As a person grows and becomes educated, moves and changes jobs, he forms different attachments and connections to other people. Does she talk on the phone weekly with her mom? Is he still close with his best friend from grade school? What is his romantic history?
Who are the mentors who taught your character? Who are her confidantes? Who are his rivals? Who are her friends? His past loves?
As the author, even if you don’t use everything, you should know the highlights.
Why, you ask? Why is it important to know things that you might not necessarily need to show in the story? Because that person has to be real in your mind in order for you to write her as a three-dimensional person who pops off the page. A person who feels real. Who pops off the page.
Until that person is real and whole in your mind, they won’t be so to anyone else.
5. Your character needs quirks.
Think of these details like the finishing touches that make your character stand out in a crowd. It’s like putting on jewelry after having done all the work to get ready for a hot date. It’s the “bling” that makes the character stand out and shine.
Does he like a certain sort of music that is unusual for his age/background? Is she into a certain fandom that she writes fic for? Is he a failed poet? Does she have a cause she’d fight tooth and nail for? Does he have an unusual hobby or a pet (i.e. maybe she has donkeys on her ranch!)
Add this in just like you’d accessorize your outfit for that hot date, but don’t overdo it because you risk making it too farfetched.
Remember, as with all things, the author knows the story best. So the key is to truly know those characters to the point where they start to tell their own story.
Whether you’re the detailed planner who charts every single thing on a special character sheet, the drafter who whips up a backstory in the character’s own words or a daydreamer who stares at clouds and pins pictures on Pinterest until the mental image is clear, you’ll know when the time is right to put the character into your situation and setting and let them run.