Writing Engaging Characters

I like writing characters. They’re the easiest part of coming up with a story, for me anyway. Often, the characters come from writing warm-ups or a short scene I wrote from a prompt, then they hibernate for a little a time. While dormant, these characters mature and develop into people.

I start to think about who they are, what they want, what they fear, and most importantly, how I can fuck with them. This is how I wrote Charlie Ocean and his bff Josh. Sure, they had different names and were originally snowboarders, but their story was one I wanted to tell. Also, their wasn’t originally a cult, but all stories undergo small, cosmetic changes.

The problem with this method is without significant pre-writing to develop the story around characters, I’ll wallow in schmaltz with exploring the characters. As my early readers will tell you, this leads to interesting characters, but slow plot. Really slow. 30,000 words into the story and no inciting incident slow, in one unfortunate case.

I know that I need to get past this bad habit and I’m learning to pre-write. My character driven method of developing a story works so long as I understand that most of these the quirks and scenes that I’ve written will have to be cut. They can be alluded to or just kept in the back of my mind but are secondary to the plot.

Anyway, this little monologue was born out of some conversations that I’ve been having with my writing group and the most recent episode of my favourite writing podcast Writing Excuses. I particularly liked this episode because they talk about Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novel, Heir to the Empire which is my favourite of the EU novels (apart from maybe the Young Jedi series because I love YA). Beyond just being an amazing story, the introduction of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade elevate this novel from an just an episode in a space opera to a brilliant work of art.

1 Comment

  1. I go about my stories very differently. I often have ideas for characters, but I have a hard time fleshing them out. They are flat. Usually with no names. I end up thinking about the world that they live in mostly. Time period, cultures, technologies, magic (if any) and the like. I end up up with a cardboard cut out in a somewhat detailed world, with usually only a vague idea of what they are doing there. With no set goal in mind, my plots tend to fizzle almost before they get started.
    Good luck with your pre-writing! One thing I’ve been told is to let the story reveal the character to the reader. Easier said than done.

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