Let’s face it: our characters are vain.
They want their stories told and perhaps have kept you up at night with rounds of “then this happened” or “what if this happened” and you just wished they’d shut up and let you sleep.
I’m working on one of The Science of Detection novellas and, being so close to James, I knew when he approached me about doing one that I couldn’t (or maybe wouldn’t is the right word) write a Holmes centric story. I didn’t trust myself to write The Master Detective to his standards.
So instead I had to create my own sleuth and I’ve found that she tweaks my writing style to suit her story, something I’ve never experienced before with a character.
When James sends a draft back to me, one of his notes usually tells me he think I should put more details into my story, give you more description. And I’ll admit that that is my weakest writing link. But Dr. Adelaide Baynes doesn’t let me have that weakness. Adelaide’s hero is Sherlock Holmes. She strives to be like him. Her dream is to solve cases. She has spent ten years developing the skills needed and building a reputation to rival his. She’s detail oriented. Everything needs to be written on notepads—and while she’s willing to admit she has a problem she’s not going to do anything about that. It’s safe to say she’s unlike any character I’ve written.
I’ll admit, my various leading ladies tend to take odd traits from me because it gives me a gateway of sorts into their heads. Rosella and Adelaide both have this ability to read people, something they got from me. There are other traits, this and that and some things get exaggerated, and it’s fun to see a little piece of me in them.
I’ve talked a lot about characters and as I’ve said many times, if you do not put time and effort into your characters, your story will fall short. Also, not talking the time to figure out not only what they look like and bits of their personality but their aspirations, their motivations, their hopes, dreams, fears, goals makes them fall flat.
And I’ll admit sometimes it takes a while to get into their heads. Sometimes you have to write a bit of the story to help you find them, find their voice.
Don’t give up.
Your story will improve greatly if your characters are well-developed. Characters who are flat, boring, and/or don’t grow tend to have people pointing this out and finding all the holes, or taking to fanfiction to give the characters the attention they think they deserved.
Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but you get my point. There are reasons there are entire websites who talk about characters, books, articles, shoot even several posts here.
We all need a hero, someone to root for. We need people to love, people to trust and believe in. Reading can be a form of escape and people find friends inside the pages of books. We want to come back time and time again to visit our friends and learn something new about them.
The best characters are the ones where the author let’s the character run the show a bit.
One of my favorite experiences as a writer is when I get so in touch with my characters that they start to help me tell their stories. Sometimes, I get so involved with a scene that my characters start to take it directions I wouldn’t expect but help to make it a stronger story.
Not only is the character allowed to come alive, they can help you get past a hurdle in a story and sometimes, especially with mysteries, they might help lead you to your next lead.
The World of the Wall
- Hannah Lackoff’s collection, After the World Ended, has just come out. Watch out for my interview with her, coming soon! You can get her book here on 18thWall Productions, and also on Amazon.
The world is a museum of fragile, curious things.
In this collection of eighteen of her very best stories, Hannah Lackoff takes you on a guided tour of the marvelous: a ranch which held out, for years, believing the apocalypse had consumed the world (and the man who discovered them); twin sisters inseparable by eye or death; the life of a queen and the many lives of a mirror, mirror on the wall; wrong numbers on the restaurant wall and a small cabin in the woods, near your home, where the dead never dare to stay dead.
Hannah Lackoff, like so many great authors before her, settles in with the bones with old stories, clichéd tales, and urban legends and builds them into her exhibits. They are alive again, and demand your attention.
Step into her museum, won’t you?