Leo's Angel Oak Tree

Monday, April 4, 2011


Today, the letter C will symbolize characteristics of great characters:

Do you know your characters? Generally? Mostly? or Intimately?  JK Rowling once said, "It's important that I know everything there is to know about my characters, but it's not important for my reader to know them as well as I do."

I love that line because it is completely true. Writers should have a deep personal relationship with their characters.  As Donald Maass says in his novel, Writing the Breakout Novel, all stories are character driven. If you are going to write about someone else's journey, it is your responsibility to portray them accurately.

Case in point: I recently began rewriting one of my novels (I know...the horror!). The character (who shall remain nameless for the moment) in my head is very strong willed, mischievous, dedicated and loyal, not to mention, fiercely competitive. He likes to showcase a bad boy image with a good guy heart, and in one scene, he has just been violently ill.  I wrote a line where he is doubled over in pain when a rival approaches and instead of toughening up and appearing strong, the character reads like a weakling. My critique partner nailed me on it. She said, "In these lines, he comes across as puny and shallow, but in the next line he is tough. Which is it?"

It made me start to think about what I wrote in regards to his actions. All I focused on was his sickness.  He would have been stubborn and cantankerous, even if not feeling well.

So, here's my challenge to you...read a few action lines from your manuscript and see if it rings true to the character in your mind.

Lastly, here are my characteristics of great characters:

1. Strength
2. Forgiving
3. Self-sacrificing
4. Self-aware
5. Conflicted
6. Wit/Humor
7. Consistancy

Things to think about with the characteristics of character: (courtesy of Donald Maass's twitter feed) 

1) Whom is your MC afraid to let down? What is the sacred trust between them? What would cause your MC to break it? Then, Break it.

2) What secret is your MC keeping? Who is keeping one *from* your MC? Spill the truth at the worst possible time.

Until tomorrow...


  1. A repost from my private stash of writings for eyes-only reading, on characters:


    Give me characters we care about. Provide, Dear Writer, real characters, all flesh and emotion: the next door neighbor washing the car with his fat farmer's tan; the scolding bus driver on the high school band bus who wreaks of smoke; a red-eyed security guard just trying to get by, two empty paper cups stained with coffee next to a photo of three kids and a woman; the shy doctor with bad breath.

    We care about these people. We want to know what happens to them, not be bogged down with trite analogies, descriptions of the cracked riverbed face, the chestnut eyes, the teeth that glinted light.

    Who cares? I don't. I don't give one rat's about whether her hair was curly brown or straight bleached blonde. If it ain't pertinent, I don't need it. Throw it out. Too many words out there to waste time with pointless descriptions.

    What we care about are characters. Not hair color. Characters.

    There's a difference.


    - Eric

  2. I tend to know my main characters rather well, but I also post blogs from their pov, so that helps. However, my characters still find ways to surprise me. In the middle of writing a first draft I had a main character randomly decide they were left-handed. Never thought about it until that moment but it made sense for him. But I do like to know some of the physical details. I don't give everything and try to avoid the overused paragraph telling all the eye, hair, etc. Yet, I find some of it can be important. Noah having White hair is important but I don't share any skin color.

    Great post!

    Dawn's Writing Blog

  3. Great post; I guess we need to have a formula on all of them and toss in a couple of surprises, but stay within their boundaries. Easier said, than done~