Surprising though this is (how do they know where I live?) It’s just the motivation I need to keep going. After all, it was my mother’s pleading that I never pick up a pen again after my first short story that made me determined to be a writer.
So this week, we’re going to talk about character… and how to take the initial idea and turn it into a novel.
I described getting an idea for a story as a “gem” in part one because it is the easiest element to work with. However, getting an idea for a character is by far the most enjoyable way to start off.
Characters are everything. They are what carry any novel, film, comic, or whatever. You can have an intricate, marvellous plot but, without engaging characters, no one is going to give a shit.
A great character can almost stand on his own, but he does need a story. Unless you are planning to hand out character sheets and be done with it. That can be a problem. Sometimes it can be tough to find a story that suits the character, or which fits perfectly.
This is particularly challenging with brilliant characters. Ones you are obsessed with. A few characters are living up in my head I’ve never been able to do anything with, because there isn’t a story good enough to justify their deployment, and I don’t want them wasted.
It wouldn’t be fair.
Consider great villains. They’re a one and done deal (usually), so you don’t want them to be wasted on a bad story and other characters that don’t match up. A lot of the time, this is what leads to great character ideas being left on the shelf.
But you can take steps towards starting the story forming process. For example, think about what type of character you have. Are they the main character? A wise sage? A love interest? You need to decide the part they need to play so you can build a story around them.
I tend to come up with antagonists because I find them the most interesting. From here I’ll assess what they want to achieve. Once I have that I can start building a character that opposes them, that wants to stop them.
This can work the other way too, and having the antagonist or protagonist first puts you in a great position. Take the first, flip them to find the second, and decide what the main conflict will be. Once you’ve done this, you have the central premise of your novel, without having to do much thinking about a story at all.
From there, you just need to build, turn it into a solid plan, and start writing.
As with story though, don’t stress too much about it if it just isn’t working. Some characters will seem brilliant at first, but won’t fit into any story. And while you should always try your best to make it work, you won’t be doing yourself any favours by forcing a square peg into a round hole.
Sometimes, you have to drop your babies entirely, and just go with something that makes sense.
R.I.P. all those great characters that never made it…