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How To Name Characters: Top Tips And Methods

Why do we find naming characters so hard? Sometimes, names will come to you immediately and that character could never be called anything else. But so often, we agonise over finding the perfect name. This guide will show you how to come up with names for characters, explain why naming characters is important, and provide examples of effective character names.  Why Is Naming Characters Important? What’s in a name?Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare Juliet (of Romeo and Juliet fame) would have you believe a name is meaningless. That is her hope. Except for her, the name is the insurmountable wall that stands between her and her one true love. So a name, evidently, has much meaning.   And naming characters is important. A name should embody your character. It should tell us so much about who they are. It is an element of your story that could propel it to stardom. Unforgettable characters should have unforgettable names.   A name should tell your readers so much - place, time, personality - even if the story you are telling is quiet, contemporary and real-world. It should also speak to the genre you are writing and ground your readers in the fictional world you have created. I will break down some of the key elements you should consider when naming characters.  Great Character Names: The Key Components From uniqueness to contextual accuracy, here are some things to consider when coming up with character names. The World We Live In When we think about novels that are showing us our own world, we want characters that we feel we know or could walk past on the street.   For novels such as One Day by David Nicholls, we must relate to the characters in order to be willing to follow them through twenty years of their lives. We all know Emma (or a version of her). Maybe not so much Dexter - but that makes sense because he is from a different ‘class’. He moves in different circles. His name is as important as hers. It shows the divide between them, but as the reader, all you care about is them managing to cross that divide.  Contemporary novels, be it literary, thriller, or romance, all have one thing in common. We know these names and we could know these characters. Sally Rooney did it with Normal People. Marianne and Connell, such beautiful Irish names of characters that could live up your street. Kiley Reid with Such a Fun Age had Emira and Alix. The novel deals with themes of race and privilege, and Alix’s name is a stroke of genius. The character changed a letter in her name to go from Alex (far too normal) to Alix (much edgier). This is a character who cares so much about her image and how she is seen that she changes her name. It\'s a genius character name, as I said. And Blythe, her husband Fox, and daughter Violet in The Push by Ashley Audrain are about as middle-class as you can get. This tells the reader so much before they have even turned the first page.  Don’t be scared to use everyday names. If that is the world, then that is the right name.  Catchy And Unique Do you want your characters to jump off the page? Naming characters in a quirky way will definitely help you get there.  Let\'s take the wonderful Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Would you have cared quite so much if Sarah Smith had been completely fine? Apologies to all Sarah Smiths of the world - it is a great, strong name and I descend from a Smith myself - but it doesn’t tickle the ears or play on the tongue quite so nicely as Eleanor Oliphant. Before even opening that first page, you conjure an image of Eleanor. She stands out. You want to know everything about her.   Charles Dickens was the king of this technique, especially with creative last names. You will never forget great character names such as Martin Chuzzlewit, Uriah Heep and Ebenezer Scrooge.  The same goes for nicknames. So many characters will only ever be known by their nicknames. Scout and Jem from To Kill a Mockingbird, Boo Radley from the same novel, Rooster Cogburn from True Grit, Piggy from Lord of the Flies. All are completely memorable characters and their nicknames help us remember them.  And let’s not forget Pippi Longstocking! Children’s literature is full of amazing, stand-out names. So, if you want your characters to stand out from the rest, go for a name that is catchy or even completely made up.  Of The Time Historical fiction calls for names that fit the period. It would be no use throwing a character named Jaiden into an 1870s Victorian cosy mystery. And some great character names have come from historical fiction.   The wonderful Fingersmith by Sarah Waters has Sue Trinder (a petty thief), Maud Lilly (a gentlewoman), and Gentleman. Anyone called Gentleman is likely to be anything but.  The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton has names of both time and place. Set in 1686 in Amsterdam, Nella Oortman marries Johannes Brandt. Both names are very much of the time.  I think this is one genre where research is key. You won’t get away with using names from the wrong period. Readers are savvy, they will pick up on it. Get it right and you’ll gain credibility.   Of The Place Place is a strange one. Of course, if your novel is set somewhere very specific such as the cold climates of Scandinavia or amid the colours and heat of Nigeria, then great character names will fit with these places. But place is also closely linked with time, so you should think about both hand in hand. And this is where you can use cultural inspirations, too.  In my current WIP, I have a character named Tara. The novel is set in Appalachia in South Carolina, just across the border from Georgia, incidentally where Gone With the Wind was set. Tara was named after the plantation in the novel and movie and she is so proud of this, she has posters from the movie hanging from her bedroom wall. But her sister, Grace, states that she is “sure Mama has never even watched the movie, let alone read the book.” Tara’s name is of the place, yet it also reveals so much about the family. They are happy to use cultural references without knowing anything about them, so appearances clearly matter to them.  There is a brilliant book called A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley. It is set amid the Civil Rights Movement in America. The character that the story centres around is Tucker Caliban - is that not a character you know will achieve something in his life? He is a black farmer that kills his cattle, burns down his farm and sets in motion a mass exodus of all the black people from the town who reject their life of servitude and head for freedom. The other character names are perfect too - The African, Mister Leland, Dymphna Willson, Bethrah, Dewey Willson III. The state is fictional but everything about these names tells us it’s the Deep South.  For me, this is one of the most important elements of naming characters. Show me where I am without telling me where I am. Anything that doesn’t belong will stick out to your readers.  Weird Names For Weird Characters Naming characters in gothic, weird or uncanny fiction can be a lot of fun. Writers need to show readers that this world is not quite the same as ours, so you can have fun coming up with great character names that fit your odd world where unlikely things happen.  One of my favourite books of all time is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The narrator is eighteen-year-old Merricat Blackwood. Merricat is an affectionate nickname. But Merricat is anything but lovely. She is malignant. The name of her sister is also clever - Constance is the faithful, dependable and unchanging sister, even knowing what she knows about Merricat. I, for one, have never forgotten the name Merricat. It is as creepy as the character herself.  The same goes for Lucy McKnight Hardy’s Water Shall Refuse Them. Her main characters are called Nif and Mally. I don’t know anybody called Nif or Mally. They are totally unique and otherworldly, just like their macabre story is otherworldly.  Dystopian fiction fits this category, too. Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins\'s The Hunger Games, for example, is a unique name for a unique world. Or in the opposite way, Winston Smith from George Orwell’s 1984. This is where the name Smith works so well. He is the ‘everyman’, yet he is living in a world filled with nuclear war, propaganda and the ‘thought police’. Quite unbelievable, yet totally (and scarily) real.  Here is where you can use your imagination - and the same goes for other genres, too - so get creative!  Roots That Go Deep If you want to stamp your novel in place and time with families that have been there for generations, the key is to come up with good last names for characters. Think about Downton Abbey, for example. The Crawley family are front and centre. They have a heritage that makes viewers care deeply about their future and the changes that occur. Jeffrey Archer achieved the same with his Clifton Chronicles. The surname has roots, giving the characters roots and an automatic history.  Or look at Titanic. Rose and Jack. DeWitt-Bukater and Dawson. Instantly, we know that Rose is from a wealthy family, she is a society girl. Jack is a poor person. They even laugh that he will need her to write her name down. The divide is clear just from their names. And there is an expectation that Rose will marry up. It is the way of things in her world. Jack challenges what has been the norm in her family and her society for generations.  This is where good last names for characters can really help you show the backstory of your characters.  How To Name A Character So, now you know just how important character names are. But how do you come up with an effective character name? Here are our tips. Research Read widely in your genre. See how other writers name their characters. Read articles and non-fiction about the time period and place your novel is set. Look at Census records for when your novel is set. Seek out the root meanings of names.  Read Baby Name Books You can Google baby names and search by year for the most popular. Or keep a stash of baby name books to hand for when you don’t want to spend forever choosing a great character name.  Online Name Generators Online name generators are a great resource, and there are tons of them available on the internet. Here are a couple to get you going:  Behind the name.Name generator. Draw From Real Life You could combine names of people that you have come across throughout your life. Did you have a sentimental teddy or toy as a child? That could make a great character name. Pay homage to famous figures without using their full name.  Teachers or other personalities from your school days always have an emotional draw (good or bad) for people. Who stands out for you? Who do you remember well?  What To Avoid When Naming Characters I wouldn’t recommend using names of people you know personally, especially family. This might come back to bite you. Using full names of famous people can be risky because your readers will always conjure an image of them in their mind. Borrowing names from other books - try to be original.  Creating Character Names While you should think carefully about your character names, don’t spend too long agonising over them. Think about what you want a character’s name to say about them, whether it be personality, image, where they live, the roots they have, or the period in which they live. If the story allows it, be wild. If the story calls for it, be ordinary. But also know that, although a name isn’t just a name, as shown above, it also is just a name. If you want more advice on writing character names, check out our Jericho Writers YouTube video on the same topic.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Introducing Characters To Your Story

The heart of storytelling is in the characters. You’ve done the work thinking them up and giving them interesting and compelling inner lives. The next thing to do is to get these characters from your head, into the heads of your readers. In fiction, as in real life, first impressions are important, so the way you introduce characters can make a difference in making sure your reader carries on past chapter one. In this article, I\'ll go through how to introduce characters in a story, provide examples of strong character introductions, and give you my best tips for introducing characters effectively. Character Introduction Examples And Tips The purpose of a character introduction is to get the reader interested in the character and invested enough that they will want to carry on reading. If you can introduce a character in a vivid and memorable way, they will appear in the reader’s mind fully formed and ready to go. So, how exactly do you achieve that?  Give Your Characters One Or Two Memorable Features What is the first thing you want people to notice about the character? Is it the way they’re wearing a kaftan and wellington boots? Is it the shrewdness of their expression? Whatever it is, describe it and let your readers build up their own picture of the character from there. It can be tempting to describe your character’s physical appearance in detail. Resist the urge!   All you have to do is provide the reader with some touch points and they will fill in the gaps (often with details that you wouldn’t even have thought about). If there is something unusual about the character’s physical appearance - or something that will become important later, do mention that.  Below is one of my favourite character descriptions. We can picture the whole of Grandma, just from that description. It’s also worth noting that the choice of words is completely in keeping with the sort of thing a boy George’s age would say. \"George couldn’t help disliking Grandma. She was a selfish grumpy old woman. She had pale brown teeth and a small puckered up mouth like a dog’s bottom.\"George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl  Describe Your Characters By The Clothes They Wear Clothes can tell you a lot about a person. At the very least, they can give you an impression of the type of person they are. Look at the description below. By the end of the paragraph, we have a clear mental image of the type of person Shoba is, even if we have no description of her actual features.  \"\'It’s good of them to warn us,\' Shoba conceded after reading the notice aloud, more for her own benefit than Shukumar’s. She let the strap of her satchel, plump with files, slip from her shoulders and left it in the hallway as she walked into the kitchen. She wore a navy blue poplin raincoat over gray sweatpants and white sneakers, looking, at thirty three, like the type of woman she’d once claimed she would never resemble.\"The Interpreter of Maladies by Jumpa Lahiri  Introduce Your Characters By Their Voice And Demeanour If you’re writing in first person or in ‘deep third’ (where you’re deep into the thoughts of your third person narrator) it can be hard to describe the character. People don’t often go around thinking about the colour of their eyes or the bounce of their curls. However, you can tell the reader what kind of person they are by the way they describe their surroundings. Show rather than tell.   A happy person and a sad person would look at the same scene and focus on different things. An acerbic character would describe things differently to a mild and gentle one.  You’re trying to give the reader an idea of the character rather than a picture perfect description. So introducing characters in a story by highlighting their characteristics can be really effective. In the extract below, although we have no idea what’s going on (and neither does Tom, really), we get a good idea of Tom’s state of mind. Also, that he’s done something that might lead to his arrest. It takes a while for the reader to understand what\'s going on with Tom Ripley, but even on the first page, we get the idea that there’s something dangerous and a little reckless about him.  \"Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way. Tom walked faster. There was no doubt the man was after him. Tom had noticed him five minutes ago, eyeing him carefully from a table, as if he weren’t quite sure, but almost. He had looked sure enough for Tom to down his drink in a hurry, pay and get out. At the corner, Tom leaned forward and trotted across fifth avenue. There was Roaul’s. Should he take a chance and go in for another drink? Tempt fate and all that? Or should he beat it over to Park Avenue and try losing him in a few dark doorways? He went into Raoul\'s.\"The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith  Introduce Characters Through Action This is my favourite way to describe people - by the things they do. This is very common in film scripts. Probably the best example of this is Darth Vader in Star Wars: A New Hope. He walks in, and surveys the dead with an attitude of annoyance. He then goes on to choke someone. By the time he speaks, we already know that he’s the villain and that he’s very powerful.  Introduce Characters Through Dialogue If your character has a distinctive voice, you can give the reader an idea of who they are just by having them speak. In the example below, the narrator (and the reader) gets an image of Holly Golightly before he even sees her. Notice also, how Capote introduces movement into the scene by the sound of her voice changing as she comes up the stairs.  \"The voice that came back, welling up from the bottom of the stairs, was silly-young and self-amused. \'Oh, darling, I am sorry. I lost the goddamn key.\'\"Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote  And then a few sentences later:   \"‘Oh, don’t be angry,  you dear little man: I won’t do it again. And if you promise not to be angry…’ - her voice was coming nearer, she was climbing the stairs - ‘I might let you take those pictures we mentioned.’\" Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote  Introduce Them Through Another Character You can use other character’s impressions to introduce your character. Make their reputation precede them. For example, before we meet Sherlock Holmes for the first time, we hear Stamford describe him and his habits to Dr Watson.  \"Young Stamford looked rather strangely at me over his wine glass. \'You don’t know Sherlock Holmes yet,\' he said. \'Perhaps you would not care for him as a constant companion.\'‘Why, what is there against him?’ ‘Oh, I didn’t say there was anything against him. He is a little queer in his ideas - an enthusiast in some branches of science. As far as I know, he is a decent fellow enough.\'\"A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle  Stamford goes on to describe various aspects of Sherlock Holmes, so that when we finally meet the man, we feel we already know him.   Introducing First Person Characters Introducing characters written in first person deserves a separate section because it’s hard to describe them without falling into the ‘I looked in the mirror’ cliche. Here are a few methods you could use, apart from the ones described above.   Let them introduce themselves directly to the reader. This may seem a little old fashioned now but it is effective. Have the narrator introduce themselves to another character. The risk of \'info dumping’ is high with this one. Try and make sure that you have them say just enough to convey the information that is essential. Introduce the character alongside another, and describe them by contrasting them. This is a good way to bring their physical descriptions in. For example: ‘unlike my diminutive and dainty sister, I was tall and had wide shoulders. No one had ever called me dainty’; that sort of thing.  Introducing Characters: General Tips As a general rule, the more detail you give about a character, the more important the reader expects them to be. Your main character needs a name, an age and some description (however vague). From there on, the amount of detail you give should be proportional to the character’s importance to the story. If you’re introducing a character who is going to reappear later, you can give them a name. For someone who appears once and has no real effect on the story - like a cashier who serves the character - just call them ‘the cashier’ and move on. There’s no need to linger and give details.   Introduce your protagonist early. This not only gets the story going right from the start, but it also tells your reader who they’re supposed to be rooting for. Other major characters can come in later, but your main character should show up in chapter one. If you’re writing romance, you need both the hero and heroine to show up within the first two chapters of the story.  When you’re in the earliest parts of the story, your reader is still new to the world, so make things easy for them. Make it clear who is speaking, either by having people call them by name or by using a simple ‘John said’.   Giving a little bit of backstory for your character is fine, but avoid trying to tell them everything right at the start. This is known as ‘info dumping’. You will know a lot about your characters. Think of all that knowledge as an iceberg.  You only need to tell the reader the bits that are relevant and visible. If you can hint at the stuff that’s submerged, then that’s great. If it’s hard to do that, then exercise restraint. You can always trickle the information in later on the story, adding layers to your character. The introduction is only the first glimpse of your character. The reader has a whole book in which to get to know them better; and if you’ve introduced your characters in a compelling way, the reader will stay the course.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write The Perfect Villain

Literary villains are characters that readers love to hate. In fact, in many cases, well-written villains are so compelling that they can even overshadow the hero or heroine of the story, with personality types that are much more memorable than the detective or superhero that hunts them down and eventually brings them to justice.   Have a think about the following well-known villains: Darth Vader, Voldemort, Hannibal Lecter and Count Dracula.   What is it that makes all these characters stand out?   What is that makes readers almost root for their victory?  Well in this article I’m going to discuss the key character traits of a villain, explore a handful of literary villains that have gone down in history and finally, give you some tips to bring your villain to life on the page.  What Makes A Good Villain?  The most important thing to note is that villains should not be created any differently to the other protagonists in your novel. They may have done the unthinkable. Their crimes may be highly unrelatable. But they are still multi-faceted, complex people with vulnerabilities, motivations and needs, no different to anyone else.   A reader’s enjoyment of a novel very much depends on whether they can relate to, sympathise with and even root for all the characters in the novel. This is easy to do when a character is immediately likeable, courageous or an underdog (because everybody loves an underdog!), but even a villain needs to be relatable in some way, and sometimes even likeable – whether the reader will want to admit it or not!   The key to writing a good villain is backstory, vulnerability and motivation. There is nothing worse than reading about a villain carrying out a series of heinous crimes with no explanation as to why they acted that way. Every villain will have suffered at some point in their past. Every villain will have been a victim. This is essential backstory to garnering sympathy from the reader and ultimately enhancing your story.   Another key to writing a good villain is character. Your villain is not just the crimes they commit. They will need their own set of idiosyncrasies and personality traits, completely independent of their crimes.   Let’s explore some of the characteristics of believable villains.   Characteristics Of Believable Villains  Here are five key characteristics of believable villains that you can use as a checklist while creating your own.   Backstory. As we’ve explored briefly above, every villain needs a backstory that provides an explanation for their villainous behaviour. Think about the backstory of the most well-known villains. Darth Vader. Count Dracula. Most of them started out as relatively good people. But it was something in their past, some sort of suffering that led them down a dark path.   Complexity of character. A villain who is nothing but their crimes, is not a villain your reader will care about. In creating your villain think about who they are as a person. Their likes and dislikes. Their wide range of emotions. Their body language. Their motivations. Some villains may be sarcastic and self-deprecating, with a limited sense of empathy, whereas others may possess a notable sense of humour (though a deeply twisted one).   The capacity for evil. This may not be the case for all villains. Some may carry out horrific actions because they have no choice. Others may experience regret or guilt. But some villains are created as pure evil, with the willingness to do bad things and feel nothing. Think of Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones, who is effectively a serial killer who showed no remorse for his actions.   Justification. As mentioned above, some villains are not pure evil. They may carry out evil but only do so from a perspective of personal righteousness. These villains are otherwise known as the anti-hero of their story, a sympathetic villain who garners immediate sympathy from the reader as their story is told wholly from their own point of view.  Special skill that sets them apart. This is another key trait that your villain may or may not possess. There are a few examples that immediately come to mind. Jason Bateman’s character in Ozark with his defining feature as a mathematical genius and Hannibal Lecter, who as well being a cannibal, is also a brilliant psychologist, which is largely what makes him so compelling.   There are other common characteristics that you can play with to make your villain an authentic, relatable, three-dimensional person, such as:   Sarcastic and droll.  Self-deprecating.  Charming (both in looks and personality).  Intelligent and accomplished.  Persuasive.  Narcissistic.  Psychopathic.   Best Literary Villains  Now let’s explore three well-known literary villains and find out exactly what it is that makes them memorable.   The Grand High Witch In The Witches By Roald Dahl  Described in the novel as “the most evil woman in creation”, she is on a mission to torture and murder as many children as she can. But what makes her stand out isn’t so much her crimes but the way she is depicted as not only terrifying, but charming, glamorous and highly intelligent.   Tom Ripley In The Talented Mr Ripley By Patricia Highsmith  Tom is a highly relatable character than you cannot help but root for. Okay, less so when he murders his beloved and assumes his identity, but you can feel the pain of his broken heart when he is pushed away by the man he so admires and loves.   Humbert Humbert In Lolita By Vladimir Nabokov  This psychopathic paedophile is a very well-crafted character. Despite kidnapping a young girl whose mother he murdered, and driving her around while coaxing her into sexual acts, you cannot help but become charmed by him and his persuasiveness. With the fancy prose and his enigmatic speeches, you almost forget that he is a villain in its most horrific form.   How To Write A Villain Now that we’ve delved into the characteristics of villains and explored some well-known examples, here are some top tips to help you go about developing your own.   Spend some time crafting a complete and foolproof backstory for your villain. Think about where they were brought up, any influences or role models they might have had, and what happened to them to lead them down this dark path.   Create the elements of their personality from scratch, completely independent from their crimes. Who are they? What are their likes and dislikes? What about their mannerisms, quirks and body language? How might a stranger view them if they saw them walking down the street?   Find an area of sympathy, or something that makes them relatable. Why might a reader warm to or root for them, in spite of their crimes?   Put yourself in their position. If you had experienced their childhood, their past, if you had their vulnerabilities, their values and their character, would it make you capable of their crimes? Have you created a believable villain?  And finally, unless you are writing a romcom or satire, ensure that you steer away from inadvertently creating a comical villain. There is a different between a witty, humorous villain and one whose actions and mannerisms are akin to a pantomime ‘baddie’. Avoid cliches in their dialogue and be careful when describing their actions and expressions.   Writing Believable Villains As we’ve discovered, the best villains are those that the readers can connect with, because they understand why a character has gone down the path they have and where they might go next. If a character has no vulnerabilities or motivations, your story will fall flat because the only conflict is external and therefore can be solved by anyone. You want your reader to finish the book and feel disappointed when the villain is brought to justice!   Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How Character Flaws Impact Your Story

If you want people to like your character, then they need to be a little unlikeable.   I know, I know, that sounds like a contradiction. But a lot of people think that creating a character means making the perfect person for readers to fall in love with. Except nobody falls in love with perfect. A person who has no flaws, no rough edges or bad habits, isn’t only unrealistic but, let’s face it, they’re boring.   And if there’s one thing you don’t want your readers to be, then it’s bored.  Readers are unlikely to eagerly follow the journey of someone who already has everything all sorted, because the point of a story is that they want to be there when your character figures things out. A reader will want to watch your character grow and change with their mistakes.  So how do you create someone who is flawed, but likeable? A character who has a lot of bad traits, and yet has readers caring about what happens to them?  This guide is here to help! We’re going to delve in to why a lack of character flaws will flaw your story, how to turn two-dimensional characters into well-rounded people that readers will root for, and what the difference is between flawed and villainous.  Why It’s Important To Add Depth To Your Characters   Characters are the core component of any story. People are interested by a plot, but they stick around for the characters.  Stories essentially have two sides: the conflict of the plot and the internal conflict of the character(s). And both are equally important. In fact, scratch that, the character side is probably more important. \'But my book is an action story about deadly space aliens,\' I hear you say. Okay, but . . . who are these deadly space aliens? Or the people they’re at war with? What do they want and why? What is stopping them from achieving it? Enter: character flaws!  Character flaws are the thing that prevents the plot from being resolved instantly, hindering a person’s ability to defeat their bad guy (or whatever the central conflict is) outside of the forces they can’t control. If you have a character who knows what to do in any given situation and always makes the right decision, your story is going to be over pretty quickly. You want to keep the reader guessing.   A flaw is a way to add depth, not only to your characters but to your plot. These flaws create external and internal conflicts, sending characters down different pathways and affecting their relationships with each other (and themselves). Really, plot and flawed characters work hand in hand.  When I start a book, I always start with the people I want in it. Sure, I have a rough idea of the storyline I want, or the world I’m thinking of creating, but the first thing I ask myself is: who would live in this world? What would happen to them in it? And, most importantly, why do they do the things they do? Their flaws, their past and present conflicts, help build this profile and impact how they’re going to journey through the worlds we create.  A character simply cannot be stagnant; they must go through a journey. I don’t mean a physical one, but an emotional one. Your characters have to end up somewhere different to where they started so readers feel a sense of accomplishment. Overcoming their flaws is the way to do this.  What Constitues A Character Flaw? So what is a character flaw?  Simply put, a character flaw is some kind of fault. A fear, a weakness, maybe even a bias. It’s a thing that affects the character and how they interact with the world around them.  A lot of the times flaws can be simple habits or quirks, sometimes they can even be physical (like scars). They can also be based on morals (or lack of!), and rigid personality traits that end up inhibiting them as they progress through the story and serve as hurdles on their way to happiness.  We’re going to look at examples of the three main kinds of character flaw a little further down, but a great way to think of what constitutes a flaw is to examine real life personalities. Think about the people you’ve interreacted with — whether it’s friends, family, or even a mortal enemy or two! — and what quirks and traits make them who they are.   Are they rigidly stubborn? Do they have a nervous tic? What was the first thing you noticed that set them aside from everyone else? The best way to create a realistic character with flaws that shape who they are, is to become something of a Frankenstein and take pieces from a bunch of people to create someone new!  And, as we’ve discussed above, at least one of these flaws should impact the plot, fuelling a conflict within the character and between them and others. Perhaps your character’s flaw might be that they have a desire for vengeance that overrides everything else, including allowing them to be truly open with close friends.   Whatever it is, you should make sure your reader knows why a flaw exists, so they can build sympathy with your character and understand their actions and what leads them to behave the way they do. This way they will be a lot more forgiving of any mistakes your character makes.  Though remember, characters don’t have to be likeable to be relatable. Or relatable to be likeable. A lot of us love a good villain, even if we can’t relate to their murderous tendencies (at least . . . I hope not!). Your readers can love to hate someone because at least they understand them and they feel authentic (in a sense. None of us can know what an authentic alien is if you’re writing sci-fi, but writers are nothing if not good at imagining!).   And if your character is a villain, don’t be afraid to lean into that. We just need to know why. They can’t want to take over the world just because they feel like it. They need purpose, logic, and a fatal flaw (more on that below!) to have driven them to that point. Remember, nobody is the villain of their own story. So why is your character the villain of someone else’s?   When crafting a character I always ask myself two questions: what is the flaw they see in themselves? And what is the flaw that other people see in them? These are two very different things, both of which impact who a character has become and where they will go next.  Character Flaws: Examples Now broadly speaking, there are three different types of character flaw. These are: minor flaws, major flaws and tragic flaws.  Minor Character Flaws A minor flaw is usually pretty insignificant. It helps differentiate your character somewhat from other people within your story, but doesn’t tend to impact the actual plot.   Good examples of minor character flaws are:   Habits like knuckle-cracking or biting their nails Forgetfulness or lateness  Shallowness or vanity   They can also be quirks of a character, like overusing a specific phrase. And sometimes a minor flaw can be physical (maybe your character has an old scar from childhood, or a limp).  Major Character Flaws Now a major flaw is different, because that’s what is going to cause a problem for your character at some point in the story. A lot of the time major flaws are moral failings, and they’re going to be the obstacle in your character’s growth. This is the thing they must overcome in some way to achieve their goals. It’ll also likely to be the source of tension between them and the other characters in the story.  Good examples of major character flaws are:  Addictions Phobias A fear of being vulnerable or letting their guard down   Major flaws are internal conflicts within your character that cause ripple effects as the story goes onward. Unlike minor flaws, which tend to stick with your character and be an essential part of who they are, major flaws are hurdles for your character to overcome in order to better themselves. For side-characters they are also the cause of shifting allegiances.  Tragic Character Flaws And lastly we have the tragic flaw/fatal flaw. This is the thing that will lead to the demise of your character if not resolved. Think of it like their Achilles heel. Tragic flaws are the most important parts of a character’s story and the very thing they need in order for their arc to be completed. And if you’re writing a tragic hero, this is going to be the crux of their story.  Good examples of tragic/fatal character flaws are:  A need for vengeance that causes them to disregard anything else, even their own safety or the safety of those they love Misplaced loyalty to someone unredeemable Self-sacrificing nobility that makes them risk their lives unnecessarily  Pride/ego so great that it leads to grave mistakes in judgement    Tragic flaws are pivotal to the climax of a story. In villains, these flaws will lead to their eventual demise. In heroes (and anti-heroes!), it can do the same; leading to their deaths when they fail to overcome them, or when they overcome them too late to save themselves but are able to save another character instead (thereby giving them redemption). Tragic flaws don’t necessarily always have to be fatal, but they will always lead to some kind of serious downfall and great misfortune.   Writing Flawed Characters The best characters are those the readers can connect with, because they understand why a character has gone down the path they have and where they might go next. If a character has no flaws and is all-too-perfect, your story will fall flat because the only conflict is external and therefore can be solved by anyone. You want your readers to know why your character is the right person for this story to centre around and what makes them so interesting. Character flaws keep a story going, ensure continuing momentum, and set your character’s journey apart from anyone else’s!   And if you’re ever feeling stuck, remember that Jericho Writers is here to help with a range of writing courses and mentoring, as well as editorial services for all types of work! As the world’s leading online writers club, we work with top agents, editors and authors to give you everything you need to smash your writing goals. Join Jericho Writers now to get access to weekly online events, masterclasses and so much more.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Create Imaginary Creatures For Your Fantasy Novel

Your character is sprinting down a dark tunnel, footsteps crashing against the hard stone and echoing all around. The tunnel opens wide, a ledge rapidly approaches – this is the lair! Your character slides to a stop and sees… what? Something awe-inspiring? Something terrifying? Perhaps both?  All readers, and indeed writers, love nothing more than seeing fresh and exciting fantasy beasts and mythical beings in their books. The presence of unique, creative monsters and imaginary races emboldens any fantasy, sci-fi, gothic or horror story. Their presence brings a book’s setting to life, inspiring questions of how they came to be, and how the inhabitants of that world interact with them - or not.   Imaginary literary creatures also massively inform a story’s plot and even enhance character, whilst being wonderful vehicles for symbolism and allegory.  So, as a writer, how do you get your monster right?   What Are Fantasy Creatures? Fantasy creatures are nothing new. Monsters made from our imagination have been around as long as the humans who created them.  When it comes to inspiration, the greatest place to start is in the past and studying the legends that have inspired many an iconic story and influenced human civilisations. Every country in the world has its own myths and legends, and in turn, its own fantastical beasts.  Take the Twelve Labours of Heracles from Ancient Greece. They are rife with legendary beasts based on very real creatures from our world, such as the Nemean Lion. What makes the Nemean Lion mythical is the small but important detail that its golden fur is impenetrable, so it could not be killed by conventional means. This elevates the labour of the hero by heightening the stakes and presenting a unique challenge for them to overcome.  Another of the monsters, the Hydra, has inspired many terrifying literary monsters. A highly venomous snake-like beast with many heads, it seems imposing enough upon first glance, but when we realise that its heads grow back after being cut off – then it becomes a true terror (anyone spot the similarities between the Hydra and Hagrid’s three-headed dog, Fluffy, in the Harry Potter series?).  Moving away from Greece, we find all sorts of mythical creatures in the infamous Chinese tale Journey to the West. Not only are there dragons, demon kings and ogres, but also a jade rabbit spirit, great white turtle and, above all, the protagonist is the cheeky, troublemaking Monkey King, Sun Wukong.  Norse mythology has frost giants, a giant wolf, undead Draugar, dwarves, elves and even the Mare – a monster that would give people bad dreams by sitting on them in their sleep (I wonder which Norseman’s sleep paralysis conjured that up!).   In Norse myth especially, the design of the creatures was directly used to inform their society and beliefs. Back then townsfolk would wear metal rings around their arms depicting Jormungandr, the great snake that represented the circle of life by biting its own tail. They would swear oaths to their gods, believing they would be protected. In those times, the creatures they created weren’t myths, but real monsters and deities that delivered cautionary tales.  There are mythical creatures in every culture – and all of them are exceptional in their own way. They are often reminiscent of terrifying or intriguing creatures in our real-world or derived from their mythical precursors. And almost all of these fantastical creatures have wound their way into unforgettable fantasy settings, both in our much-loved classics and modern storytelling.  But do these monsters make a difference? In short, yes.  Benefits Of Using Unique Fantasy Creatures In Your Novel As we excitedly plunge into the vibrant ocean of fantasy creatures, we should take a step back and try to understand what they bring to our stories.  Often a character’s interaction with a fantasy creature will form part of the plot. If we take the earlier example of the Hydra and Nemean Lion, Heracles daubs his arrows in the Hydra’s venomous blood and wears the impenetrable hide of the lion as a cloak. As you can imagine, both concepts have been used in numerous fantasy stories since.  A great deal of exploration of the human soul can be done with monster stories too. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we get an insight into love, abandonment and discrimination through the lens of a horrifying creature. The monster, as it’s known in the tale, receives its own chapters demonstrating how it thinks and feels. Shelley’s work was a remarkable forerunner for stories using fantasy creatures as a lens of symbolism and theme, such as Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling.  The existence of a unique fantasy creature, in turn, makes your story unique too. This extends to mythical races such as elves and orcs. Take Lord of the Rings as an example. Would Tolkien’s famous world have had half the cultural impact were it only filled with squabbling human races?  Even in a more grounded fantasy setting, such as George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (the series that conjured A Game of Thrones) - if we were to remove Targaryen Dragons and White Walkers, would it be the same?  So many mythical creatures have become iconic to the point where their world-building has become canon. Vampires, werewolves, dragons, krakens, and probably a dozen more you’re cursing me for not mentioning.  The truth of the matter is that what makes a fantasy tale stand above the crowd is the strength of its creatures, and how they are used. An unforgettable fantasy world is built of many bricks, but it is the consistency and uniqueness of its creatures that glues those bricks together.  So how do we bring originality to our own creatures?   How To Create Unique Fantasy Creatures As all writers know, creating something truly unique is a near-impossible task. But don’t be disheartened, as it doesn’t take much to mould something that already exists into something new and gruesome.   Let’s take a look at six ways of doing that:  1. Combine More Than One Magical Element  Let us take the story of the Nemean Lion mentioned earlier. The story uses a very real creature (a lion) but adds the small tweak of its golden fur being impenetrable.   We can do the same thing. What if we take a boar, but say its tusks can conjure lightning? If we want whimsy, what if a character has to catch a quite ordinary-looking mouse, but this mouse weighs as much as an elephant?  In a similar vein, many mythical creatures are mashups of two real creatures. The Chimera was depicted as a fire-breathing lion, with the head of a goat protruding from its back, and a venomous snake as its tail. What if we gave the horn of a rhino to a horse? What if we gave sharks wings? You get the picture… 2. Make Them Human  The term ‘uncanny valley’ (the relationship between the human-like appearance of a robotic object and the emotional response it evokes) is a wonderful tool to use when trying to understand what makes something scary. Taking something into that uncanny valley – that halfway point between familiar and unnatural – plays on some of the deepest shared human fears.  When a werewolf is turned by a full moon, we can’t help but remember who they were as a human. Vampires are so tantalising but unnerving because they can present themselves as humans, but they kill in such a gruesome way. Creatures like Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT tap into that uncanny valley all the time. As would a human who crawls like a spider, or a woman who glides instead of walks, or a child with buttons for eyes (thank you, Neil Gaiman). 3. Give Your Monsters Motivation  Or better yet, an origin story.  Fantasy creatures and monsters are often the villains of a novel, so why not give them depth and complexity? It could be argued supervillains like The Joker, from Batman, or Thanos, from The Avengers, are monsters in their own rights.   Both have penetrated the modern zeitgeist thanks to their detailed backstory and purposeful (or anarchic) motivations. It’s often not enough to make your scary creature bad, if you give them a good enough reason it heightens the stakes and creates discomfort in your readers as they start to question their own morals (perhaps even the monster within themselves).  4. Give Them A Home Where does your monster live? In its own world? In ours? Or maybe both? Ask yourself what’s scarier, or a bigger challenge, for your characters.  Trans-dimensional monsters are cropping up more and more often in books, TV and film, providing great inspiration for writers. In the Netflix show, Stranger Things, the Demogorgon monster moves between a rural 80s US town and a mouldy mirrored world known as the ‘Upside Down’.  Having contrasting locations (much like foil characters) not only brings style to the story, but also provides parameters and boundaries for your creature. How the creature interacts with our own world will influence the plot, how it behaves, and ultimately how the hero will defeat it.  5. Ask Yourself If The Creature Is Even Needed (Or If You’re Just Having Fun) Is your creature simply another barrier in your hero’s quest? Are they an integral part of that world? Are they crucial to the plot? Perhaps they’re only there to deliver a message to your reader (or even character).  Whatever their purpose, how and why you have created this fantastical being will change the attributes you give it and how/where it’s featured in your story. We all love a great monster, but a monster for a monster’s sake doesn’t make for a great story. In fact, it may do the opposite, and detract your reader so much from the main plot they stop caring about your hero altogether. 6. Use Nature To Inspire You As the old adage goes, ‘fact can be scarier than fiction’. You don’t have to look far in the world of animals, plants and unusual habitats, to find inspiration. Mermaids have strong ties to manatees, vampires were inspired by bats, and even something as simple as Jaws, a shark that looks like a shark and acts like a shark but is just really big and really mean, was enough to make an entire generation scared of the water.   Fascinating creatures exist all over our natural world, especially in the depths of the ocean or in uninhabitable rainforests. So get searching and add some of nature’s wonders to your own monsters.  Our Monster Checklist Once you have come up with your fantastical concept, take a look at our checklist to ensure your creature is consistent within your world and story.  Here are some things to consider:  What are its strengths and weaknesses? Vital in any potential confrontation with a creature, we must know what makes it a threat, what makes it special and what might bring it low. Your hero has to overcome it after all.  What does it look like? Consider how many limbs it has, its facial structure, if it has skin or fur, its colouring and textures. A big one for me is eyes – missing eyes can be uncanny, beady eyes feels insectoid, large eyes feels cute (perhaps as a trap). How large is the creature?  A seemingly inane question, but an important one. If the world is filled with enormous titans, what is their food source? If there isn’t one, are they going extinct? Or, if a creature is tiny, how does it overcome larger foe? Does it exist in a swarm? How intelligent is the creature? In some stories dragons are devastating monsters that never speak a word and sleep on their treasure horde. In others, they talk and even participate in society. Has your creature learned to avoid mortal society? Or have they learned to infiltrate it…or rule it? How old is the creature? This works both for individual creatures and for a species. If a creature lives for millennia, how has it changed? What has it lived through? If a species has existed for only a few centuries, why? Did they have precursors they evolved from? Are they hunted? Particularly for dangerous creatures, are the societies around them large and advanced enough to undertake hunts to cull them? If yes, why has this particular creature survived?  How does it interact with other creatures in the story? Is it adversarial to your protagonist but buddies with everyone else? Does it forge a bond with your protagonist only? Maybe it’s not a scary monster but a kind and helpful one? Name? With some fantastical creatures the name can come first, but it’s always important to consider why it has the name it does. Did it claim its own name, or did others give it the name? Does it have different names in different cultures? Fantasy Generators If you want a jumping-off point for creating a fantasy creature, don’t be afraid to use an online fantasy creatures generator.  A few good ones include:  For generating names, story concepts, plot obstacles – it has a little bit of everything! A direct fantast creatures generator. For generating ideas and briefs for creatures. For help with fantasy creatures names’.  But do remember, when using these generators, you don’t have to stick to the ideas they give you!  Often the best way to use a fantasy creatures generator is to cherry-pick what you like and drop what you don’t. If you’re generating a name and like the suffix but not the main body of the word, keep the suffix and either come up with the rest yourself, or combine it with a body you like elsewhere in the generated list. Likewise with creature skills, weaknesses, looks and so on.  Conclusion Fantasy creatures have become truly iconic over the years. Having such a rich depth of reference points at our fingertips (from classic books and modern movies, to disturbing works of art and the internet) only makes our jobs as authors more fun.   Never has so much inspiration for such creatures been so accessible, across all cultures. And never before has such strong support existed for adventurous authors wanting to carve their own take on old monsters, as well as feature their own culture and legends into their own work.   So, when creating your fantastical monsters, remember that the sky is the limit. And for some truly horrifying creatures… there’s no limit at all as to how far you can go to make sure we never forget them. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How to Write a Believable Tragic Hero

Have you ever seen something terrible unfold right before your eyes? If so, you know that even if you want to, it’s hard to look away. In stories, the embodiment of that irresistible dread is the tragic hero – or what I like to call ‘the literary car crash’. Every story has a protagonist, or hero, and that hero usually faces some kind of conflict. Often they suffer hard lessons, but come out in the end with their conflict resolved; the hero is fulfilled, and the story ends on a happy note. Now, I love a happy ending – and absolutely refute the suggestion it lessens a work’s importance. But what if you want your readers to have a different response to the end of your story? What if you want them to feel pity, fear, or devastation for your protagonist? If that’s your intention, you might consider writing a tragic hero. In this guide, you’ll learn what makes a tragic hero, how those characteristics play out in some well-known examples, and how you can develop your own tragic hero with those examples in mind. What is a Tragic Hero? The tragic hero is a classic literary archetype, one that inspires compelling drama, conflict, and pathos. What makes this character (usually the protagonist) so intriguing is that, while they have admirable traits, one or more of those traits, in the extreme, ultimately causes their downfall. This unhappy irony provides a moral lesson and evokes sympathy from the reader – two reactions that leave a strong impression. What\'s the Difference Between a Tragic Hero and an Anti-Hero? Every novel needs a hero, but what kind will the protagonist of your novel be? Unlike a tragic hero, an anti-hero is someone who (even if they are the main character) lacks heroic qualities. They might do good things, but not necessarily for good reasons – think of Joe in the novel and TV adaptation, You. On the other hand, the tragic hero remains heroic with strong morals and good intentions, with the exception of their fatal flaw that trips them up. Readers want to read about both types of hero, but unlike with the anti-hero, we suffer as we stand by and watch our tragic hero’s demise. So, what are tragic heroes made of? Characteristics of Tragic Heroes According to history books, Aristotle coined the term ‘tragic hero’ (an archetype prominent in ancient Greek plays). He famously said that when a tragic hero meets his fate or demise, “pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.” Using the ancient Greek tragedies as an example, the tragic hero has six main characteristics: Hubris – or arrogance, excessive pride.Hamartia – a fatal flaw; an error in judgement, or self-deception.Peripeteia – the sudden turning point; the error in judgement leading to a reversal of fortune.Anagnorisis – recognition of their tragic mistake.Nemesis – commonly known as ‘the enemy’, here it refers to the struggle with their own pride.Catharsis – pity and/or fear invoked in the reader/audience. Shakespeare’s plays also feature many iconic tragic heroes – Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo, Othello – with these characteristics. Macbeth, as a tragic hero, is riddled with flaws. The irony being that were he not so greedy or ambitious he would have managed to avoid all the horrors he encountered. Do tragic heroes always die? No. Shakespeare’s characters are unforgettable, and as a result people often think tragic heroes have to be larger than life and that their stories always end in death. But that’s not necessarily the case. Let’s examine some more modern tragic heroes, including a few of my favourites, keeping in mind the list of traits above. Tragic Hero Examples Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady The young heroine of Henry James’ 19th century novel is beautiful, free-spirited, and idealistic. She turns down marriage proposals from two wealthy suitors, which impresses her cousin Ralph. He convinces his dying father to will her a large portion of his inheritance, hoping financial freedom will allow her intellect and independence to thrive. Instead, she falls for an impoverished dilettante, Gilbert Osmond, set up by Madame Merle, who she considers a friend. Despite Ralph’s warning, she marries Gilbert, certain of his love and moral character. Afterward, Gilbert controls her money and manipulates her affection for his daughter Pansy in a scheme to further his social standing. Her recognition of his deception alters her; once vibrant and optimistic, she becomes quiet, cautious, defensive. Thus, Ralph’s gift, intended to secure her liberty, becomes the instrument that traps her (and his misguided generosity, combined with his hubris of presuming her future, makes him a tragic hero too). Isabel walks into the trap because of her inability to see fault in those she loves, and pride in her own judgement. Even when she learns of her husband and friend’s betrayal (Merle is Pansy’s real mother), she chooses her notion of honour above her own happiness, as if in penance for her mistake. We feel sorrow on her behalf, because we can relate to the pain of choosing the wrong partner, and being betrayed by a friend. Stevens in The Remains of the Day Tragic heroes aren’t necessarily grand or likeable. The English butler in Kazuo Ishiguro’s post-WWII novel lives a life of service, dedicated to his employers and to his ideals of loyalty, dignity, and discretion. All fine qualities, but he takes them to the extreme, making him priggish and exasperating. Still, he merits sympathy, because his upbringing was constrained and unloving. As the novel progresses in flashbacks, we learn two things: 1) Stevens’ revered former employer, Lord Darlington, collaborated with the Nazis, tainting his legacy, and 2) Stevens repressed his romantic feelings for Miss Kenton, who worked as a housekeeper at Darlington Hall twenty years ago. In present time, he takes a road trip to visit her, after receiving a letter suggesting she’s unhappy in her marriage. When they finally reunite, the old attraction is still there. But while she admits it, he cannot. Once again, Stevens’ fear of change and intimacy prevents him from acting. The tragedy of his life is that he devoted it to an unworthy man, while turning away the one person who truly cared for and understood him. Worse, he doesn’t know what to do with his pain except to pretend he doesn’t feel it. And this makes him pitiable. We’ve discussed the appealing tragic hero and the infuriating one; now let’s study a character who’s a bit of both: Lila Cerrullo in The Neopolitan Novels One of two main protagonists in Elena Ferrente’s beloved four-part series, Lila is a brilliant visionary – talented, gorgeous, and fearless. She’s also arrogant, jealous, bitter, and vengeful. All of which makes her fascinating. With her beauty, intelligence, and charisma, she’s a natural prodigy. But her early promise is thwarted by the patriarchal confines of 1950s Italy – and her own self-destructive impulses. She makes dangerous enemies, and betrays (more than once) her best friend Lénu, who can never be sure which Lila she’ll encounter: the good or the wicked. Her unpredictability compels and disturbs Lénu, just as it does the reader. Their love/hate relationship fuels their lifelong, intimate rivalry, and propels this story for several generations. Lila isn’t the agent of all her miseries; terrible things happen outside of her control. At times, she acknowledges her flaws. This softens our judgement, and makes her sympathetic. But she turns her rage at the world inward, becoming so harsh, she repels those who would help her. She expects disappointment, a self-fulfilling prophecy that leaves her isolated and unloved. Finally, she chooses to disappear entirely, and it’s as if a scorching flame has been extinguished. In Lila, Ferrante created an unforgettable tragic character – one that bridges the line between hero and villain. More Examples Other tragic heroes from popular, modern-day books, movies, and TV shows include Lisbeth Salandar in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, June Osborne in The Handmaid’s Tale, Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars, Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Walter White in Breaking Bad, and Omar in The Wire. They differ from ‘pure’ heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, Tony Stark in Iron Man, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, or Bella in Twilight because, while those heroes may suffer tragedies, they don’t have a hand in creating them. And their stories generally have an optimistic ending. How to Develop a Tragic Hero Now that you have an understanding of what defines a tragic hero, let’s review some key steps to help you write this type of character yourself: 1. Your protagonist should have some combination of virtuous, admirable, or advantageous traits. Give them a positive trait - honour, loyalty, kindness, intelligence, strength, talent, attractiveness, etc. Anything that would be deemed positive on the surface. 2. Develop one or more of these admirable traits as a ‘fatal flaw’. Dig beneath the surface. When taken to an extreme, something positive can turn negative, causing your protagonist to make decisions that lead to misfortune. This involves some form of hubris, pride, or misplaced faith on their part. What makes a fatal flaw tragic is that it comes from within, not by some outside force or event. 3. The progression of this fatal flaw should be believable. Meaning, it should be organic to the development of your character. For example, Isabel Archer In A Portrait of a Lady defends Gilbert Osmond against those who think he’s opportunistic because she believes they fault him for being poor. As she also came from modest means, she views this accusation as unfair. And because she personalises it, she can’t judge clearly. Therefore, her loyalty (a positive trait) is skewed by her own hubris, which becomes the cause of her downfall. Despite her intelligence, we believe she could make this kind of mistake, because her decision is caused by something elemental to her nature. 4. Due to this fatal flaw, your character must suffer a reversal of fortune. Often, this occurs at the novel’s peak, provoking the hero’s wrenching conflict. Watching a good situation turn bad, or happiness into despair, invokes our most primal fears. As a result, your reader feels invested and engaged. 5. Your protagonist must realise their tragic mistake. This twists the knife deeper. It’s one thing to fall from fortune’s grace, and another to know you’re the architect of your own misery. This recognition can be either profound or subtle. In The Remains of the Day, the butler Stevens doesn’t consciously acknowledge his error. But his last parting from Miss Kenton niggles at him, and when he reflects aloud about his dim future prospects, his body betrays him and he tears up. He pretends it’s just exhaustion – but the reader knows better, and feels pity. 6. The final outcome must be tragic, evoking sympathy and pathos. Your heroes don’t always have to die – but the consequences of their actions must be grave. Their suffering should outweigh their mistake. Even if your reader feels annoyed by their poor judgement, they should relate to this injustice and be more apt to forgive them. Create Your Own Tragic Hero Tragic heroes, unlike superheroes, are by nature flawed – and therefore someone we can relate to. In their flaws, we see our own. In their stories, we recognise plausible conflicts. And as we project our emotions onto these characters, we experience outcomes that are devastating, digesting their moral lessons without having to suffer in real life. This is the catharsis Aristotle described, and the effect you want from your reader. As you begin to construct your own tragic hero, think of some favourable traits you possess or see in others that, in its extreme form, could be a tragic flaw. Have you had or know of an experience where good intentions drastically backfired? Have you ever been betrayed or blindsided? What are the moral dilemmas you want to explore? The best writing comes from a place of deep personal connection. Find that hot spot within yourself, consider the dramatic possibilities, and then imbue your hero with all the wonderfully complex tragedy they can – or can’t – handle. Make your readers enjoy their sweet suffering as they watch the character they’ve learned to love destroy their own life. Not all great endings are happy ones…but most do shine with a little hope and a hearty lesson. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Is A Foil Character?

You’ve taken the time to write a perfectly flawed character, you’ve ticked all the literary boxes making sure they have a solid backstory, they have a clear motivation and you’ve taken the time to showcase witty or cynical dialogue. Yet somehow there’s still something missing, that missing gem that you can’t quite put your finger on. Why isn’t your character shining?  Fear not, because I’m about to explain how to polish your power as a writer by using a foil character. Foil characters are an incredibly powerful and yet often subtle device to showcase and emphasise certain character traits in your MC, by offering another character in a contrasting light.  In this short piece, I will explain what a foil character is, how to use them effectively, and give examples of foils in literature, as well as film. I will also be showing you how to get the most of these often-forgetful characters, which when used effectively will give your characters that little extra time in the spotlight.   Before I continue, here’s a little fun fact for you!  Foil was once placed behind gems to make them shine brighter. Clever, hey? I’m going to let you in on a secret, that is exactly what a foil character does!  So let’s look a little closer at these magical tricksters.  What Are Foil Characters? A foil character by definition is a device used by writers to contrast or reflect another character – often your protagonist (main character)- by highlighting their traits, appearance, personality or morals.  Often, a foil in literature comes in the form of an antagonist (an adversary) but they can also be a sidekick, mentor, friend or parent; they can also even be an animal, or a subplot which foils your character’s progress. By using a foil character, you will essentially be shining a spotlight on your character’s attributes and behaviour, revealing those contrasting elements.  How Foil Characters Are Used A good foil character will draw your reader’s attention to the qualities of your protagonist, often without your reader even knowing you’re doing it. This can be done in a variety of ways. Let’s take a look at some contrasting examples and match them to famous foil characters.  Your protagonist may be a law-abiding citizen, so the foil could be a law breaker (think how different Harry Potter’s friends, Hermione and Ron, are). An adventurous character may have a more cautious foil (look at the old man and the boy scout in the animation Up).A more reserved character may have a loud friend (the perfect example of this is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).One may be violent and one wanting to keep the peace (Tybalt trying to fight a loved-up Romeo).  Foil characters can be used in a variety of ways, but whichever way you wish to do this, a good foil can make all the difference to how the reader identifies with your character. This adds to the underlying strength of your writing and may not be so obvious to your reader without their inclusion.  Motivation Foil characters are there not only to highlight how different they are from another character, but also to help the reader see what it is that motivates them.   For example, by having a foil character as a close member of the family, who perhaps often puts the safety of the family in danger, the protagonist’s determination to fix the foil’s mistakes or do the polar opposite with his own choices, shows the reader his motivation is to protect his family. A perfect example of this is Alex and her mother in the Netflix series Maid.  Backstory A foil can also highlight the differences in your character’s upbringing or background.  Picture a scene showing your protagonist as someone who comes from a deprived background that they have kept hidden but who has worked their way up and is now starting to finally believe they belong at the posh business lunch with their new peers. Now say they use the wrong etiquette in this social situation; perhaps they return a palette cleansing sorbet when it’s first served to them, saying they didn’t order it. On its own, we wouldn’t perhaps see the significance of the sorbet being a standard part of this kind of luncheon, but by having a foil character alongside the MC accepting the sorbet without a second thought highlights the MC\'s mistake. Although the protagonist is now qualified and being accepted in their new world, this underlying fear of not quite belonging would be subtly highlighted, drawing deeper empathy and understanding from your reader.  Setting You can also use a setting as a foil. In Harry Potter, for example, we have Harry living in the cupboard under the stairs, then in huge contrast we have Hogwarts will all its majesty, magic and splendour, highlighting the very different life he has now been thrown into. Animals Yes, that’s right, animals can be great foils too. Bagheera in The Jungle Book serves as a brilliant foil, being a mature and cautious character as opposed to Mowgli’s inexperienced youth and adventure. Subplots Subplots can also serve as a foil, literally foiling the plans of your main character. All you need is the same problem and two different characters solving that problem in different ways.  In Lord of the Rings, for example, we have Boromir and Faramir, brothers who are charged with protecting Gondor and whose motivation is driven by gaining their father’s approval. Boromir tries to take the ring from Frodo to gain power over the enemy, in contrast, Faramir allows Frodo to take the ring to destroy the enemy. Not only are these both foil characters in their own right, but this subplot highlights how the ring can influence everyone around it and has the reader focussing on how different personality traits in the many subplots surrounding Frodo’s journey can determine the fate of the story. At its core, a foil character helps the reader understand the traits and motivations of other characters, helping them identify good from evil, strength from weakness, dark versus light. Examples Of Foil Characters Some of the most famous foil characters in movies include Captain America and Iron Man, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, and not to mention Superman who has the perfect foil character in his alter ego, Clark Kent.  As for foil characters in literature, there are far too many to count. Let’s look at the classic example of Wuthering Heights, and the more contemporary novel, Me Before You.   In Wuthering Heights we have Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. These foil characters are set up not only in personality but in physical appearances too. Edgar is fair, with blonde hair and blue eyes, whereas Heathcliff has dark hair and dark eyes. Both men have contrasting upbringings too - Heathcliff an adopted orphan, Linton brought up in a wealthy family. Not to mention their differences in demeanour towards Catherine; Heathcliff is passionate and moody around her, yet Linton treats Catherine with kindness. We even have a setting foil in the dark and menacing Wuthering Heights, which reflects and strengthens Heathcliff’s doomed passion and strength whilst sitting in direct contradiction to Thrushcross Grange, a setting filled with wealth but essentially etched in kindness. It is with the use of these opposing sides of the story, each side underscoring the differences in the other, that makes it such a powerful and evocative narrative.  Let’s now examine a completely different type of love story, Me Before You.  This novel serves as a brilliant example of contrasting characters, using foils in a slightly less dramatic way that is equally effective. And it does so with the two foils barely having any direct contact with each other. To begin with, let’s look at the setting and subplot. At the beginning of the story Lou is living in a small and crowded house filled with family and noise, we discover that money is tight and this is one of the reasons she’s wasted her potential to become a fashion designer and finds herself applying for a job looking after Will, a quadriplegic, at Granta House. In contrast to her own home, Will’s is empty, tidy, quiet and his family distant and non-communicative.  Louisa has a boyfriend in the form of personal trainer and wannabe-athlete, Patrick, who is obsessed with training for triathlons; again, the complete opposite to Will. Patrick often puts his own wants and needs above Louisa’s, displayed clearly when he books ‘them’ a holiday but is actually an excuse so he can take part in the Extreme Viking challenge. Once Louisa gets the job at Granta House, she is given the task of companionship to wealthy and, at first, hostile Will. Although Will is rude and closed with Louisa at the beginning of the story, the two form a bond with Lou’s primary goal to fill Will’s life with fun and adventure despite his injuries. With Patrick, she is desperate to avoid Patrick’s fun activities and would much prefer a less exhausting relationship.  What the author, Jojo Moyes, does so brilliantly in this example, is she uses the foil characters to reflect the opposing traits of both Will and Patrick onto Lou so that she begins to see all the things that both foil characters bring out in herself.  In the one scene where Will and Patrick do meet, Patrick gives Lou a birthday gift of a gold necklace with a star pendant which is nothing like the type of jewellery she has ever worn and doesn’t suit her at all. In contrast, Will gets her a pair of black and yellow tights, a replica of a pair she had loved when she was a child, revealing how Will understands and knows her better than her boyfriend of several years. And although Will is wealthy, and Patrick is not, it wasn’t the expensive gift that impressed her.  By highlighting the differences between Patrick and Will to the reader, Moyes uses this device to also reveal these oppositional aspects to her character, Lou. It is then through this contrasting lens, that Lou understands how different she is with both men. With Patrick, she accommodates his needs, is unhappy and bound to a life she doesn’t want while wasting her potential. With Will, she realises that he’s putting her needs before his own, that she is happy when she is with him and ultimately discovers she is capable of achieving her full potential in the life she wants. Conclusion In short, foil characters are often the unsung heroes of the literary world. Although sometimes minor characters (often even forgettable) what they do is shine a light on your main character, making them three-dimensional and stand out on your page.   When defining foil characters, think of them as a pinch of salt in your caramel sauce. It may play a small role, the main ingredients are big hitters (syrup, butter, cream) but it’s that little hit of contrast, that your guests may not even know is there, that cuts through and makes the rest of the ingredients that much sweeter!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Are Secondary Characters?

Secondary Characters - Definition and Examples We’ve all done it; spent hours and hours defining the minutiae of our protagonists, even down to their favourite ice cream flavour and dream holiday destination. But what about the people who surround them? These secondary characters, also called supporting characters, are vitally important to our stories. They may even become the fan favourite: just think about the beloved Dumbledore or Shakespeare’s Mercutio. Secondary characters are frequently described as supporting characters because of the role they play. They are often supporting the protagonist and driving the story forward, for example acting as a sidekick or love interest. Or they are supporting the development of the protagonist’s character arc, acting as a foil or to build a character’s backstory. Secondary characters may even offer comic relief or carry subplots all of their own. There is no ‘hard and fast’ rule for how many characters there should be in a novel. Some novels make use of a vast cast of characters (think of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire); while others focus on a single protagonist. But even novels with a minuscule cast will still have secondary characters, even if we only meet them through flashback or another literary mechanism. What is a Secondary Character? So, what are secondary characters? They are those in our stories who play a significant role, and appear in multiple scenes, but who are not the main focus of the primary plot. These supporting characters may be the focal point of their own subplots and so they are integral to the story as a whole.  Characters who only appear in one or two scenes, or who exist entirely on the periphery of the story, are unlikely to be secondary characters. Some characters exist only for a very narrow purpose: a waiter serving dinner, a taxi driver, a colleague who is seen only once. We often refer to these characters as tertiary. Why do Secondary Characters Matter? Secondary characters matter because they add layers to our stories. When we read a book, of course we want to know what happens to the main characters, but we also want to see them as part of the wider world. Secondary characters provide that anchor and an opportunity to showcase a more complex fictional surrounding. One of the most useful things they do is offer our protagonists someone to talk to. It sounds so simple, but without someone to talk to, our protagonists may need to do a lot of pontificating, which is unlikely to feel particularly exciting for our readers!Secondary characters may also provide a subplot of their own to drive the narrative, solidify the themes, or provide a necessary change in pace. Think of the death of Rue in The Hunger Games; the reverence of Katniss’s memorial to her was in stark contrast to the high-octane action during that part of the story. How to Develop Secondary Characters The main thing to remember when creating secondary characters is that they are characters first and supporters second. They should feel like whole people who could step straight off the page, so we must avoid them becoming clichés, or even worse, being contradictory in order to progress the main plot. There is nothing more off-putting, or likely to throw us out of a story, than if a secondary character does something we know they wouldn’t, just to make a plot point work.   The best supporting characters will have all the things we expect from good primary characters: a clear arc, recognisable personality traits, and consistent points of view. So, how do we write brilliant secondary characters? First and foremost, remember that they are real people; they are the product of their life experiences, and this informs how they interact with the world around them and the other characters that meet them. Do we need to write them all a whole and elaborate backstory? No. But we do need to think of some of the key things they have been through that have shaped them. What about their hobbies, their families, their hopes and dreams, the little idiosyncrasies that make them unique?  Secondly, make them interesting and special. Secondary characters are a perfect opportunity to surprise our readers and grab their attention. Keep readers on their toes and they won’t be able to put the story down. These characters don’t have to be likeable, or sympathetic, so have some fun!   Make sure that the secondary characters have purpose within the context of the overall story. They need to be connected to the main narrative, even though that narrative doesn’t revolve solely around them as it does for the protagonist. Remember that old saying ‘kill your darlings’? Secondary characters must be necessary, they aren’t just an opportunity to pad a story with an unrelated back story or sub-plot. And if they are? Well, you know what you must do. When I’m planning my secondary and supporting cast, I create a character profile for each one to enable me to keep track. This includes their names, relationship to other key characters, age, sex etc. But I will also include other more interesting information: where were they at the turn of the millennium for example, although a more up to date example might be what they did during the first lockdown in 2020! These character profiles or bio templates can also be very helpful for making sure that our secondary characters are all unique and we don’t have multiple characters who are too much like one another. We don’t need as much detail for our secondary characters as for our protagonists, but we still need to ensure that are fully formed and feel real. A quick point on names: make sure they are also memorable. Most of us agonise over the names for our protagonists, ensuring it is perfectly suited to their personality and perhaps even finding something with a double meaning to the story. We must make sure our names for supporting characters are similarly suited to them and also that they are different from each other; there is nothing more frustrating as a reader than not knowing who is who because they are all called Dave! Dynamic Characters Dynamic characters are those who have a character arc and therefore change over time. This change may result from a significant crisis or from resolving a major conflict. Our protagonist and other major characters will undoubtedly be dynamic characters, but there is ample opportunity for us to make secondary characters dynamic too. Static Characters Static characters are the opposite of dynamic characters in that they do not change over time. They remain the same throughout the story, with no major transformation or evolution. They are often used to provide a contrast to the main characters’ journeys, especially to highlight the evolution of the protagonist. We can also use static characters to provide some lighter relief to the narrative. Round Characters Round characters are those who are complete and complex individuals. They are likely to have elements of their personality that contradict or provide inner conflict. We can craft these complex personality types to ensure that the reader connects more fully to our characters, as they are seen as more ‘real’. Flat Characters Flat characters are the opposite to round characters and are defined by just one main personality trait or characteristic. Flat characters are most useful as tertiary characters, those incidental people our primary or secondary characters interact with. These flat characters are likely to ‘blend in the background’ and so do not slow down the narrative.  Examples of Secondary Characters We’ve talked about the types of secondary characters, but these supporting characters play a number of important roles too, including acting as companions, assistants, foils, roadblocks, and antagonists. The companion, or sidekick, is a secondary character who stands with the protagonist on their journey. They might be a love interest, a friend, a sibling, or just someone who goes along for the ride. They don’t even need to be human, there have been some great animal companions in literature, offering the protagonist company and someone to talk to, such as Buck in The Call of the Wild.  Some companions play more of an assistant role, offering help and guidance to the protagonist. Probably the most recognisable assistant in literature is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr Watson, without whom Sherlock Holmes would seriously flounder. Batman’s Robin is another great example.  Another significant supporting character role is the foil. The foil exists to contrast against the main character and therefore we can use them to highlight the qualities of the protagonist we wish to accentuate. JK Rowling used this technique to highlight the inherent good in Harry Potter by pitching him against Draco Malfoy. Draco also epitomises the naked ambition that is in direct contrast to Harry’s initial reluctance to see himself as the hero, which only makes us love him more. We often use secondary characters as roadblocks, using them to put challenges in our protagonist’s path. This may provide essential plot elements, or form part of the main character’s arc by providing opportunities for them to grow and change. How they react to these roadblocks may provide significant illumination about the main characters. In Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece, The Road, a father and his son are travelling by foot with all their possessions in a supermarket trolley. The man who steals their cart is an excellent example of a roadblock, this man’s actions may literally spell death for the father and his son. The father responds by tracking the man down and preparing to execute him, but instead leaves him alive, demonstrating that despite their prolonged ordeal, the father still wishes to model compassion for his son.Antagonists provide adversarial opportunities for our protagonists. We use them to generate conflict for the main characters. Antagonists are often the evil villain, such as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia or Mrs Trunchbull in Matilda. Don\'t Neglect Your Secondary Characters! As we’ve seen, secondary characters play a vital role in fiction. They are the companions, the villains, the ones who offer assistance, or the ones that put obstacles in the way. Without these supporting characters, our stories would feel flat, our plots less exciting, and our main characters less rounded. Just because they are described as secondary, don’t scrimp on the way you develop these characters. Make them believable and ‘real’ and they will really help to make your work leap off the page and keep your readers happy and engaged. Try making a list of every character in your story. How many of them are secondary? Now take each of these in turn and build a short character profile. You might want to consider their main characteristics. What kind of person are they? What is their role in the story? Are they round or flat, and does that work well? Are they dynamic or static? Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

How to Create a Character Bio Template

How to Create a Character Bio Template You have a great idea for a book, but you don’t yet know anything about your main character (being ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ is not enough to move a story forward). Or perhaps you’re struggling with your latest novel and can’t work out your character’s motivation. Elevating a book from a good idea, to a compelling and addictive read, hinges on deep characterisation. This is where a well-crafted character bio template comes in. Or, in this case, all the ingredients you need to create your own bespoke character profile template. You can also sign up for our FREE Jericho Writers Character Building worksheet. What is a Character Profile? A character profile is a document that you, as an author, compiles during the (preferably) beginning stages of a first draft. The character template should document everything about your character’s life – from how they look to mannerisms and their back story. A character profile template will allow you to keep all the important details about your protagonist/antagonist in one place to be used as a writing resource when attempting your first draft. It can also be a handy tool to check details and continuity during the editing process.  But don’t be intimidated!  Character template writing needn’t be boring or laborious. And your character bios don’t have to be cumbersome, lengthy or complicated. There are no hard and fast ‘rules’ about what you can and can’t include. In short, your character template sheet should be crammed with as much information as you can think of. Why is a Character Bio Important? Writing your character creation template is important, because if you don’t understand your character fully, then neither will your readers.  We all know that the concept or plot is what makes us read the first few chapters, but it’s the characters that keep us turning the pages. In fact, even the most implausible story ideas can capture the hearts of many, if they get the connection with the characters right.  Take, for instance, the story of Eleanor Oliphant, in the novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Any other character in her place, anyone less unique and complicated than her, would have made an intriguing and riveting book really quite dull. Readers get invested in a story because they relate to the character on the page, or because they are invested in their growth. They stick around because the characters feel real.  But characters won’t feel real to your readers if they aren’t real to you. So how do you create that with the help of a character bio profile?* *Before we start - a word of warning Once you learn the art of writing a character profile template, you will never look at your characters the same way again.  So let’s begin… What to Include in Your Character Bio Template Creating a character profile will essentially develop the bible that your leading players will live by. And although 90% of what you discover about your characters will never make it to your novel, having a deeper understanding of your characters and their motivations means that when you put them in certain situations, they will show their true selves in the most natural way. There are plenty of detailed character profile templates out there for you to use, adapt, and play with. Some are spreadsheets, some Word documents, some forms to fill in. But I think the best way to get to know your characters is to develop your own outline based on the questions highlighted in this article. Whether that means cutting and pasting my prompts into a Word doc, or even buying a notebook and filling it with nothing but characterisation notes, you need to construct a template of headers and questions that work for you! Let’s start with the simple questions first. Basic Characteristics It’s so important to be able to see your characters in your mind, therefore start with what they look like and who they are.  NameAgeNationality Don’t skip the easy stuff, but don’t stop there. When deciding on a character name, question why.  Was that name passed down by a grandmother? Does that mean that family ties are important to this character?  Something as basic as a name can throw up so much depth and understanding about a character, and small important details can be dropped into your novel to add depth and roundness. Same applies to their nationality and heritage. Physical Attributes Again, these help your reader see your character. Start with: Hair colour Eye colour HeightAny physical disabilities Then take those simple thoughts and dig around some more.  What about that scar on his left cheek? Why is that there? Who gave it to him and why? Is he self-conscious about it? Does this change his behaviour when out in public?Does she have painted nails, or chipped bitten nails? Could this be a sign of vanity, or maybe those bitten nails are a sign of anxiety? Personal Preferences of the Character (e.g. political / tastes / cultural) You can have a lot of fun with this one. Start with the basics and ask why:  Favourite colourFavourite foodFavourite musicFavourite restaurantReligious beliefsSpiritual beliefsPolitical affiliations Then, get deeper still… Is there is a certain phrase your character says all the time?Do they swear and if so, what cuss words does he/she prefer? What hobbies does your character have? Why? Where would we find your character on a wet and rainy day? How would a typical weekend play out in your character\'s world? The answers to these questions will filter in like softly spun gold through the pages of your novel. Health What’s your character’s health like?  Smoker?Drinker?Exercise regularly? Health can be a big issue in our day to day lives, so we should be aware of it with our characters, too. You would be surprised how much of a difference it makes when creating a well-rounded character. Could bad health or hypochondria run the family? Does your character use health issues as a barrier? Do they eat well, or binge eat late at night? Why? Do they walk with a slight hunch due to consistent back pain that they have grown accustomed to living with over the years? Career and Education Even if this isn’t mentioned explicitly in your novel, knowing how your character acted at school and what they do for a living is so important. A career can signal so much about a person and can help you develop who they are simply by looking at what they have chosen to dedicate their life to.  Does the character have a job?How long have they been in chosen career?Are they happy?What job would they choose if they could retrain?Is their job important to them?What are their main priorities in life and where does career fit in? Remember that most of our adult life is spent working with, and surrounded by, others. Work life can change a personality completely.  How does your character view their work colleagues? And how do they feel about your character? Does your character get involved with colleagues outside of work hours, and how does this affect their work/home life balance?What is their greatest career achievement?How did they do in school? Were they popular? Did their early school life affect their chosen career? Asking questions like these can help you figure out the motivation and underlying issues your character is dealing with. If it’s a sense of loneliness, has it been there since school? If it’s a sense of entitlement, could that have come from their upbringing?  Flesh out the ‘whys’ and enhance your character development, and the plot twists (or holes) will reveal themselves. Personality Traits This will most likely be the most in-depth section of your character template – but again, don’t stick to the surface. Even if you have decided your character is mean, narcissistic, and aggressive, ask yourself why. What happened in the past to make them this way?  Are they… Cautious or spontaneous? A daredevil or worry-wart? Why? Do they act the same way around other people or does bravado make this person take risks they wouldn’t normally?An optimist or pessimist?An introvert or extrovert?What do you think is your character’s biggest flaw? What does your character believe is their biggest flaw?What is their greatest strength? Get down to the nitty gritty, even if most of this won’t appear in your book. Start asking questions that really test you as a creative writer. Ask questions that will push you to find out the deeper motivations, such as: What is your characters biggest regret? Why?What is their darkest secret? And how would they react if someone found out?Are they the type to crumble under interrogation, or lie to conceal the truth? Family and Relationships This is an important section of your character trait bible because it’s not until you begin excavating relationship dynamics, that you truly get to know who you’re writing about. Don’t be surprised if your plot changes as your main character deepens. Ask yourself these questions: Spouse/significant other?Are the character’s parents still around?Do they have any siblings?Are they the oldest/youngest in the family?Is there an extended family/family support system? Again, this is surface-level, but look what happens when you start digging a little deeper… How do they get on with each of the family members? What do those family members think of your character? Would they be honest about this to their face and if not why?What’s the character’s first/oldest memory?What member of their family/support system would your character turn to in a crisis?How would they react?Does your character trust members of the family and vice versa?If your character is married, where did they meet? Love at first sight? Were friends happy about the union? Were family members accepting? At this stage you may even find yourself creating complicated spider diagrams to see how your main character connects with the rest of the cast. Don’t be surprised if this exercise begins to alter your plot and deepen your twists. Life Stages, Milestones, and Backstory This section is generally filled with information that you (and only you) will ever know about your character, because no one needs to endure an ‘info dump’ about each character’s backstory. However, small nuggets of this information will always feed into your story if you are adding the required depth of character. So it’s important to know the following before you start: What stage in life is my character in at the start of the story?What stage of life will they be in at the end?What has been the character’s greatest achievement in life?What has been their top three life defining moments? If ‘X’ hadn’t happened to your character, how would life be different now?How would your character describe their life right now? List the major life events in chronological order from birth to now and highlight major events that have changed the course of their life. Look at you go! The character that you only previously knew as ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ is fast becoming a fascinating, deep, and 3D guy. Let’s go deeper. Character Perspectives, Outlook, and Opinions You may think your characters don’t have opinions yet, but that’s because you haven’t asked them. By this point in your character profile template, you should know so much about your character, that this section will seem instinctive. Be prepared, because many of the opinions you discover they have may not be your own. But you have built this fictional person, given them features, history, flaws, and dreams… so you shouldn’t be surprised when they suddenly have their own opinions. What do they think of the state of the world right now? What is the one thing they would change if they could?What is the one thing holding them back from true happiness right now? And do they really believe they will be happy if that one thing were to change? In this section, try to be honest and answer from your character’s point of view, not your own. If your character is lying to you (and you know it), ask yourself what they are afraid of. You must be willing to ask, listen, and analyse.  And finally, ask some of your own questions. These are a few that have arisen after years or doing this exercise: Who is your character’s biggest inspiration and why?How does your character spend the week before this story begins?If your character could jump back in time to one particular point, where would it be and why?What is your character’s most prized possession?Name four things your character would change about themselves. How to Develop Your Character Profile Template Essentially, what you are doing with a character bio template, is sitting down with a large pot of tea and a box of tissues and asking an imaginary person as many deep and meaningful questions as you can.  You are the therapist who wants to know all their secrets, worries, and desires. You are interviewing them for the story of their lives, and you are not leaving until you know each and every last detail.  It’s up to you how you put your character profile template together, whether you go for handwritten notes or a fancy spreadsheet, just remember - the deeper you dig, the more gold you will find.  Once you have built a detailed psychological profile of each important character, you will have all the power you need to help make them come alive on the page! And who knows? It may even inspire new plot twists and scenarios or highlight plot holes. Deep Characterisation is Vital in Good Storytelling As much as we love to plan and predict what we are writing, there’s nothing more exciting for a writer than when a twist comes out of the blue and you didn’t see it coming. Often that’s a matter of chance, but not now. Now you know exactly how your character will react, and why, those twists will be much easier to write. Your character bio template not only helps when creating your first draft, it also acts as the perfect reference guide and checklist during edits. For instance, if you can’t remember the name of your MC’s sister’s boyfriend, no problem, because you will have written all that information down in your ‘family and relationships’ section. Finding and dealing with continuity issues in your manuscript is so much easier if you have a reference guide to check – and it will also save you a lot of hassle when your editor and proof-readers ask for a list of names and places. It’s also invaluable when writing a series of books, as it saves you having to re-read your books to remember back story and character traits. Essentially, your character bio template can be anything you want it to be, as long as it helps you see, smell, touch, and hear your characters in your mind. No one else in the world needs to know any of the answers to these questions because it’s up to you what to reveal to your readers and what to keep hidden. But truly knowing your characters like this means you will create well-rounded, real, and vivid characters that will jump from the page and capture the heart of your readers. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

How Mannerisms Can Create Memorable Characters

What Are Mannerisms, And How Can They Help You Create Memorable Characters That Jump Off The Page? How do you create characters that feel real? The best stories are brought to life by characters that jump off the page – they are three-dimensional, rather than two-dimensional – as if they’re sat right beside you.  We understand it can sometimes be challenging to do this. After all, strong characters are the heart and soul of every story. One of the most effective ways you can do this in your novel, using a classic ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ method, is through character mannerisms. These are an essential way of breathing life into your character. They can elevate your writing to the next level, helping your readers feel more invested in your characters naturally and organically, ensuring they’re still thinking about them long after they’ve finished the final chapter. But firstly, let’s ask ourselves: What exactly are character mannerisms? Mannerism Definition: Mannerisms are the things that people do repeatedly without realising. They are typically unconscious gestures, vocal tics, or expressions. They can be things that people do with their hands, faces or voices – they might do them repeatedly and not even realise they’re doing them. As mannerisms are individual quirks, they can be a great way to build a character’s personality. For example, when considering how to convey strong emotions, it can be useful to look at a list of mannerisms for specific emotional responses. Mannerism Examples There’s a reason why fiction writers are always people-watching. We love to see how individuals act, and how they react. We don’t all act the same way when shocked or angry. Let’s take a look at some standard mannerisms of everyday emotions and see if you can add any of your own. Mannerisms Of A Sad Character Wobbling lipWiping their eyesLooking upwards to bat away tearsLooking downwards at their feet to avoid eye contactFidgeting with their handsStumbling over their wordsHigh-pitched voiceCoughing to clear their throatBiting their fingernails Mannerisms Of A Happy Character Open body languageThey make tactile movements, such as touching, stroking, and hugging other charactersLaughter and smilingHumming and singingDemonstrate politeness through gestures such as holding a door open for othersDaydreamingSing-song speech patternShortness of breath from speaking too fast and too excitedlyGesturing wildly with their hands while talkingSwinging arms when walking around Sad and happy are quite general emotions, so let’s look at a list of mannerisms for something a bit more specific, like a character who is displaying narcissistic traits, or one who is shy. These types of character traits offer the opportunity to link the character’s mannerisms with their back story and development (a very important aspect of mannerisms that we will explore further in this article).  For example, your character may be timid due to past trauma, a phobia, or a history of abuse – or from having a narcissistic parent. Mannerisms Of A Narcissistic Character Frequently looking at themselves in the mirror and constantly checking their appearanceExaggerating, bragging, or lying about their achievements or talents, and seeking out constant praise and admirationDemeaning or belittling others – they might do this by interrupting other characters and speaking over themPhysical mannerisms might include smirking and sneering and rolling their eyes when others are talkingConfident physical traits – they will likely have a strong posture, with a confident stance and walk with a swaggerLoud speaking voice and loud laugh Mannerisms Of A Timid Character Jumpy and flinching at sudden noisesIsolating themselves, they’re often on their ownNervous around strangersStuttering and stammering and are quite often tongue-tiedNatural response is to freeze in high-pressure or high-stress environmentsShaking – physically with their hands or in their voiceSpeaking quietly and softly, and less frequently than other charactersShowing general social awkwardness – difficulty engaging in conversations, maintaining eye contact, joining in on jokes etc Speech And Dialogue Aside from emotions, there are also mannerisms you can give your characters to elevate them from the page and bring them to life. These can be intertwined with speech and dialogue. Think about the following… Volume: Does their voice boom, or are they softly spoken?Where do they come from, and does it affect how they speak?Do they have an accent? Are there certain phrases they use frequently?Do they talk more than they listen? Do they interrupt other characters?Speed: Do they speak quickly or slowly? Are buffer words such as ‘like’ or ‘erm’ used frequently? (Only add these if they are part of the character traits, or it will be distracting for your readers).Do they make physical noises, like coughing, laughing, clearing their throat, or muttering? Physical Character Traits There are also physical mannerisms that can convey a sense of who they are to a reader. Perhaps a character plays with her hair, implying she’s flirting, or maybe it’s a nervous habit. If they are anxious, they may tense their jaw, grind their teeth, or rub the back of their neck or temples. These physical reactions work well in moments of high-stakes tension.  Think about what a character is doing with their body, as well as what they are saying or thinking. Biting their lip or the inside of their cheek might be seen as a sign of nerves, worry or a lack of confidence. What are they doing with their eyes? Both strong eye contact or avoiding/breaking eye contact can convey emotions or depict personality types. And finally, posture - how does your character present themselves? Do they stand confidently with their shoulders back, or are they slumped over? A broad stance or a slouch can say a lot about a character and offer an immediate impression to a reader. Using External Interactions Considering how your characters physically interact with objects and the environment around them is another important aspect of character building. For example, if they wear glasses, are they repeatedly pushing them further up their nose? Do they take them off and rub their bloodshot eyes? Do they clean them with a handkerchief while pondering in a moment of thought? Imagine our character holding a pen. Would they tap it against the table, annoying other characters? Would they doodle absentmindedly on a blank page while in a daydream? Maybe they’d chew the end of the pen if they’re nervous? Or click it repeatedly? There are many ways you can use external objects or surroundings to add new layers to your character’s personality. Creating Tension And Conflict Mannerisms can also be an excellent tool to create tension and conflict between characters. Conflict is one of the most vital aspects of every story and every character arc (check out our free character arc guide and template for your character development). Without conflict and something for your characters to overcome, there is no story. But how can mannerisms add to this? The conflict and tension concerning an individual mannerism can’t be instant, as the mannerism needs to be well-established. But once it is, then it’s the perfect opportunity to have another character pick up on the quirk or trait and interact with it. For example, they could ask that person to stop doing it (because they’re finding it irritating, and it could be the final straw that makes them snap). Or they could ask why they always do it (inviting a conversation, and maybe creating or diffusing tension, about how that specific mannerism is linked to their back story).  Individual literary genres tend to approach internal and external conflict differently; our blog about conflict in genre writing breaks this concept down in further detail. Let’s go recap all we need to know about creating believable characters through their mannerisms. Character Mannerisms: What To DO ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ It’s the age-old writing advice, but it’s especially relevant when writing character mannerisms. Don’t have your character simply saying “I’m sad” – instead, make them wipe away a tear slowly rolling down their flushed cheek. Link Mannerisms To A Vital Part Of A Character’s Back Story For example, they shouldn’t be shy or awkward for absolutely no reason. Perhaps it’s linked to a childhood experience when they were humiliated at school, and now they find crowds difficult to handle. Our blog about characterisation and character development is a useful resource for creating meaningful backstories and character arcs.  Try And Avoid Clichés Some mannerisms are overused and can therefore turn a reader off (our blog about avoiding clichés and writing believable characters is an excellent guide). Think outside the box if you can and consider how you or other people act subconsciously in certain situations. Sometimes it can help to observe people and actions in these settings.  Character Mannerisms: What NOT To Do Repeat The Mannerism Too Frequently It might distract from the character and the story, and become annoying for the reader. However, on the other hand, don’t just add the odd mannerism in as a throwaway gesture; otherwise, it won’t be memorable enough. Leave Mannerisms As An After-Thought These mannerisms should act as the backbone of your character. They should be deeply connected to who they are as a person and why they act (or don’t act) the way they do. Why Your Character’s Mannerisms Are Important In a nutshell, mannerisms are typically the things people repeatedly do without realising, which means they are an extremely useful tool for developing character personalities and backstories.  As writers, we know that there’s a huge sense of achievement in creating memorable characters that jump off the page and stay with the reader long after they’ve put the book down. That’s exactly why it’s worth investing the time into creating mannerisms for your character – therefore revealing who they are and helping the reader to understand them on a much deeper level.  Just remember not to use mannerisms for the sake of it – always ensure that they tie into your character’s personality, background, and development. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

The 12 Character Archetypes

The 12 Character Archetypes: A Guide for Writers Are you looking for readers to connect to your story on a more primal level? Do you want them to feel close to your characters and to root for them? Well, this article explores how you can use character archetypes to do just that! You may have heard people talk about ‘archetypes and their importance to Jungian theory’ and wondered just what they were talking about. But an understanding of the key character archetypes may be just the thing to help elevate your stories and keep your readers turning the page. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, believed that storytelling and myth making were an integral part of humanity’s development. At the centre of our stories are characters who appear repeatedly, irrespective of culture, custom, or language. They are part of our instinctive understanding as humans, resonating on a fundamental level. What is an Archetype? An archetype is the original pattern on which other things are based; it is the prototype, or blueprint, as it were. In essence it is something that is universally recognised as a typical example of something or someone. In Jungian theory, this definition is taken even further and used to describe the collective unconscious we inherited from our earliest human ancestors, something almost hardcoded into us. What is a Character Archetype? Character archetypes represent a specific set of universally recognisable characteristics and patterns of behaviour. Each archetype is defined by a distinct set of motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. They are so ubiquitous to us that we recognise them instantly. When someone says, ‘the hero’, we instantly think of someone fighting for good, someone who we wish to succeed. The hero is just one of the 12 archetypes, and we will explore these in more depth later in this article. Why are Character Archetypes Important? Character archetypes are important because they resonate with the reader; they are recognisable and intrinsically understood. Using them to our advantage can elevate our stories by drawing the reader more fully into our character’s world. One of the biggest obstacles for writers when creating great characters is ensuring they are believable and that they act in realistic ways when faced with certain situations. Understanding the archetypes can help us ensure our characters are consistent and feel authentic. Put another way, the archetypes can give us a blueprint to ensure our reader sees a truth in our character’s actions because they fit a known psychological profile.  The 12 character archetypes described in this article (along with examples of archetypes from literature and popular culture) will help us develop our characters and ensure they are believable, recognisable, and resonate with readers.  The character archetypes are also often associated with 7 seven basic plots on which almost all stories are built. Archetypes, Stereotypes, Stock Characters, and Clichés Although archetypes are the typical example of certain character types, they are not stereotypes, stock characters or clichés. Stereotypes are overly simplified characters, usually defined by a small number of characteristics and are often negative caricatures.  Stock characters (including the ‘boy next door’ or the ‘cat lady’) represent generic character types and, in contrast to stereotypes, are not intrinsically positive or negative. Their use may be seen as rather lazy; but they may offer great opportunities to subvert the form, especially for comic effect.  The main thing to watch out for with stock characters is avoiding the cliché. This is a character who has been used so often throughout literature that it has become boring and predictable. Stereotypes and clichés will act predictably and according to type in a way that can easily be anticipated. They are therefore likely to be boring for the reader. Archetypes, however, may be seen to speak a universal truth and therefore, although we recognise them and empathise with them, they are not inherently predictable. 12 Character Archetypes Jung noted that there were 12 character archetypes, each with its own set of values, traits, and motivations. They are broadly grouped into three categories: The ego archetypes: the Innocent, the Everyman, the Hero, and the CaregiverThe soul archetypes: the Explorer, the Rebel, the Lover, and the Creator/ArtistThe self archetypes: the Jester, the Sage, the Magician/Wizard, and the Ruler The Ruler The Ruler is obsessed by the pursuit of power and may become consumed by it. They are often the antagonist, someone against whom the protagonist must battle. However, there are plenty of opportunities to subvert the form here and create an anti-hero type like Tony Soprano or Walter White. The main strengths of the Ruler are their status and their access to resources. They may be charismatic and demonstrate enviable leadership skills. However, they are prone to suspicion and fear others are attempting to grab their power. They may also appear aloof and be disliked by many (if not all) of the people surrounding them.  Examples of the Ruler include the titular character in Edward St Aubyn’s Dunbar (based on King Lear), Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, Macbeth, and Joffrey Baratheon from A Song of Ice and Fire. The Ruler may also be described as the Leader, the Boss, the King/Queen, or the President. The Creator or Artist The Creator, also known as the Artist, is a visionary who creates things of enduring value, such as art, music, structures, or even entire worlds depending on the scope of their role within the story.  The main strengths of the Creator are their flair for creativity, their drive, and general ability to execute their vision. This makes them extremely determined, but this may also give rise to perfectionism and egotism. Creators may also demonstrate weakness in their willingness for personal sacrifice in the name of their vision or be overly single-minded at the expense of wider goals.  Examples of the Creator or Artist include Marvel’s Tony Stark, Dr Jekyll from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Geppetto from Pinocchio, and Slartibartfast fromThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who is literally a designer of planets.  The Creator may also be described as the Inventor, the Innovator, the Musician, or the Writer. The Sage The Sage is the wise character who offers up their knowledge, typically using their intelligence to provide context or impart this wisdom to another character to improve their chance of success. They often perform the role of a mentor to the protagonist. The main strength of the Sage is their accumulated wisdom, and they will often provide considerable insight. However, they may be overly cautious and prone to excessive study. This gives rise to a large weakness in the form of a hesitancy to take any action. Examples of the Sage include Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, Magwitch in Great Expectations, Dumbledore in Harry Potter, and Master Splinter in The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.   The Sage may also be described as the Expert, the Teacher, the Scholar, or the Advisor. The Innocent The Innocent archetype is the embodiment of all that is good in the world. They are unsullied by life or tragedy (in contrast to the Hero archetype) and wish for happiness for themselves and others. Often depicted as children, the Innocent is used to inspire a sense of compassion into even an apathetic reader. However, this archetype is not immune to hardship, and many literary Innocents do meet a terrible end (Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol for example). The main strengths of the Innocent are their moral purity and sincerity. They will be kind and by extension well-loved. However, the Innocent’s weaknesses of naivety and lack of skills may make them especially vulnerable.  Examples of the Innocent include Pippin in The Lord of the Rings, Dory from Finding Nemo, and Lyra from His Dark Materials (although she eventually transforms away from the Innocent towards the Hero as she matures). The Innocent may also be known as the Child, the Youth, the Mystic, or the Naïve. The Explorer The Explorer archetype is driven by a desire for adventure and to discover the previously unknown. They are characters who will typically seek out new experiences and opportunities, and who wish for more freedom.  The main strength of the Explorer is their innate curiosity; they demand answers and are driven by a need for self-improvement. However, their weaknesses include a tendency for aimlessness, and they may become misfits, especially if they become unreliable as a friend or ally. Examples of the Explorer include Odysseus in The Odyssey, Indiana Jones, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, and James from Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. The Explorer may also be described as the Seeker, the Wanderer, or the Pilgrim. The Rebel The Rebel lives by the idea that rules are made to broken and are often driven by one of two primary urges: revenge or revolution. They do not live within the boundaries that society has demanded and will often be the character who leads the fight to overthrow the status quo. The main strengths of the Rebel are their independent thinking and dogged perseverance to achieve a change. However, this can make them self-involved and may even force them towards criminal activity. They may also lack the resources to achieve their aims, resulting in frustration which further increases their propensity towards crime. Examples of the Rebel include Katniss from The Hunger Games, Robin Hood, Sirius Black from Harry Potter, and even Elle Woods in Legally Blond as she takes on the status quo entrenched in the legal profession.  The Rebel may also be described as the Revolutionary, or the Outlaw. The Hero The Hero is the one who ‘saves the day’, rising to the challenge with the aid of their unique set of skills. They are generally depicted as the ‘good guy’ and embody the characteristics that are especially valued within society to represent a model of virtue.  The key strengths of the Hero include their courage and force of will, their strength (be that physical or mental), and their ability in specific areas that confers them an advantage over an intimidating enemy. However, they may have a propensity for overconfidence and an inflated ego, often bordering on hubris.  Examples of the Hero include Hercules, Achilles, Superman, Harry Potter, and Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale. The Hero may also be described as the Warrior, the Crusader, the Superhero, or the Dragon Slayer. The Magician or Wizard The Magician, also known as the Wizard, is the archetype who brings significant knowledge or wields an ancient power. They are often key to achieving difficult goals within a story.  The main strength of the Magician or Wizard is their access to the ‘secrets of the universe’, most frequently coupled with a discipline to harness and wield that power effectively. They may provide an innovative solution to a problem; however, this may give rise to a series of unintended consequences. One of the main weaknesses of the Magician or Wizard is arrogance (which may exacerbate those unintended consequences) and they may become corrupted by their power (think Darth Vader in Star Wars).   Other examples of the Magician/Wizard include Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Prospero in The Tempest. Sherlock Holmes may also be considered as a Magician, although his skills are cerebral rather than supernatural.  As well as being known as the Magician and the Wizard, this archetype may also be described as the Shaman, the Inventor, or the Catalyst. The Jester The Jester is a comic character, often also known as the Trickster. They may provide an element of comic relief but may also offer up important truths. They likely live by the motto ‘you only live once’.  The main strength of the Jester is their ability to be funny whilst also offering insight in an accessible way. They are much liked by readers, although this may be a superficial appreciation. The main weakness of the archetype is borne from this superficiality, and they can quickly become obnoxious or time wasters. Examples of the Jester include the Fool in King Lear, the Weasley Twins in Harry Potter, Timon and Pumba in The Lion King, and Joey in Friends. The Jester may also be described as the Fool, the Joker, or the Comedian. The Everyman The Everyman is someone to whom all readers can relate, someone who is recognisable as a ‘regular person’. They are likely to be characters who ‘fit in’ easily and are great at bringing people together. The main strength of the Everyman comes from their ability to integrate; they are down to earth and easy to like. However, they may subsume their own sense of self to blend in, moulding themselves into who they think others want them to be. The main weakness of the Everyman archetype is that as a ‘normal’ person they likely lack specialised skills and so may not prove useful in difficult situations. Examples of the Everyman include Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the anonymous narrator in Fight Club, and Philip J. Fry in Futurama.  The Everyman may also be described as the Person Next Door, the Citizen, or the Regular. The Lover The Lover archetype is the great romantic, in love with the very idea of being in love. They may be anyone within a story, but their leading drive is to find (and keep) love.  The main strengths of the Lover are their passion and devotion, which may make them a powerful ally. However, this devotion may boil over into a willingness to sacrifice everything for love, including identity, life, and liberty (and not just their own). Further weaknesses include irrationality in their behaviour and a tendency towards naivety and a ‘love conquers all’ mentality.  Examples of the Lover include Romeo and Juliet, Edward in Twilight, and Jake and Rose in Titanic.  The Lover may also be described as the Partner, the Intimate, or the Spouse. The Caregiver The Caregiver plays a nurturing role, and this archetype has also been known as the Mother Figure, although they certainly do not have to be female. They are often seen in supporting roles, such the spouse or best friend, in addition to the more obvious parent/guardian role.  The main strength of the Caregiver is their selflessness, and they will frequently put everyone else first while expecting little in return. They will also show significant loyalty and a focus on honour. However, they generally lack leadership skills or personal ambition.  Examples of the Caregiver include Samwise in The Lord of the Rings, Mary Poppins, and Miss Honey from Matilda.  The Caregiver may also be described as the Saint, the Helper, or the Supporter. What Archetypes Work Best For Your Story? As this article has highlighted, understanding the main character archetypes can help you to build more believable and realistic characters that readers will be drawn to. Use them as a form of blueprint to ensure your primary characters jump off the page and into the hearts of your readers, keeping them turning the pages as they are sucked into your characters’ lives. Or use them to find new and exciting ways to give readers something unexpected: how about a young child in the Sage role for your ageing Innocent; or the assassin as the Caregiver? Play around with your story and see what archetypes work best for your characters. You never know where your story may take you next! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Anti-Hero Vs Villain – A Complete Guide

The relationship between an engaging protagonist and a compelling antagonist against the backdrop of an intriguing plot is what ensures a reader will continue to turn the page. But should your protagonist be an anti-hero – an underdog who goes against the grain of the typical \'hero\'? And what about the antagonist in the story – the character who will stop your protagonist from getting what they want? Is your antagonist somebody morally ambiguous, like an anti-villain? Or are they purely a villain, through and through? In this guide, we\'ll look at these two character types, what they are, how they differ and how to use them in your writing to strengthen your stories and engage your readers.  What Is An Anti-Hero? The definition of an anti-hero is somebody who lacks the virtues and traits of a traditional hero, such as courage and confidence. They can be morally ambiguous in their thinking and actions. However, when it comes to the anti-hero, the audience is rooting for them anyway. That\'s because they do the right thing, but maybe not for the right reasons. They have good intentions, but how they arrive at their conclusion or results can be questionable. An anti-hero typically lacks some of the attributes conventionally associated with traditional heroes. There are several anti-heroes in books, films and TV. Tony Montana in Scarface is an iconic character who ticks all the boxes of a classic anti-hero. Initially, he\'s the good guy, but he develops less than heroic traits throughout the film, as crime and drugs see him descend into a whirlwind of violence and greed. Despite this, he\'s still a character the audience can get behind because he does immoral things for moral reasons (his motivation is strong: getting his family out of poverty). Still, his life of crime escalates his downfall. Al Pacino\'s portrayal of Michael Corleone in The Godfather is another excellent example of an anti-hero. The film is widely regarded as one of cinema\'s greatest masterpieces, thanks to the protagonist\'s gripping character arc and his journey through the world of organised crime. It\'s a superb example of how the \"bad guy\" can be the hero.  Types Of Anti-Heroes One of the most important aspects to bear in mind when writing an anti-hero is that they\'re typically flawed but are usually engaged in doing good. So, now that we\'ve looked at what an anti-hero is and some examples of famous anti-heroes, let\'s explore the traits and characteristics that make up the different types of anti-heroes.  The Corrupt Protagonist Example of the corrupt protagonist: Thomas Shelby, Peaky BlindersA corrupt protagonist will typically act out of self-interest and might be obsessed with motivations such as power, wealth and fame. For the reader to understand and sympathise with this type of anti-hero, the reasons for their corruption must be clear and logical. Another example is Walter White in Breaking Bad. He\'s a normal guy with a normal life at the start of the series - but his obsession with money and power, instigated by his cancer diagnosis, leads to his downward spiral. The Classical Anti-Hero Example of the classical anti-hero: Frodo Baggins, Lord of The Rings.  A traditional hero is confident and intelligent, with few flaws and weaknesses. Therefore, the classical anti-hero is the opposite and is plagued by self-doubt and a lack of confidence. Readers enjoy the complexity that comes with a layered character who is flawed and conflicted. Traditionally, the story arc will follow the classical anti-hero conquering their fears and coming to terms with themselves and their faults to fight and conquer whatever is threatening them. The Pragmatic Anti-Hero Example of the pragmatic anti-hero: Harry Potter This type of anti-hero recognises their role in the greater good, and they see everything through a \'big picture\' viewpoint. For example, suppose the story means this pragmatic anti-hero must kill or sacrifice other characters. In that case, typically, this anti-hero will recognise that it must be done so that they can achieve the higher goal. For example, in Harry Potter\'s pursuit of Voldemort, he carries out actions that would be considered wrong (such as using curses) to ensure Voldemort\'s ultimate demise that\'s for the greater good. The Unscrupulous Hero Example of the unscrupulous hero: Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean  Heroes in this category have good intentions, and they\'re morally good. However, they don\'t care how much collateral damage they cause when they fight to achieve their goals. If your hero is unscrupulous, they\'ll be motivated by revenge and will typically be distrusting. Jack Sparrow is a great example of this as he\'s ultimately fighting on the good side.  Hero In Name Only Example of a hero in name only: Dexter Morgan, Dexter These protagonists tiptoe along the line of a hero and a villain. The reader will still be on their side and root for them, but they won\'t necessarily agree with all their actions and decisions. These characters are on the side of good, but they\'re not entirely good themselves.  What Is A Villain? The best definition of a villain is simple: a villain is a character opposite of a hero. A villain\'s role in a story is vital, and every villain must be compelling enough to be believable while holding a reader\'s interest. A villain is an antagonist who will place obstacles in the protagonist\'s way and drive forward the story. Creating a great villain is just as important as creating a great hero – and the best villains help define and drive the character arc of the story\'s hero. Writing a good villain means examining different villain ideas and villain traits to see which type of character fits into your story.  What Makes A Great Villain? There are some key characteristics that you can use to create a villain. Arguably, the most important is the backstory. Without it, villains feel one-dimensional and inauthentic. With it, you can create a sympathetic villain that feels real – which is exactly what you want. A villain\'s background will ultimately explain their motivations and help a reader sympathise with them. It will demonstrate why they act the way they do due to past experiences and situations that they\'ve been exposed to. Even better, if a villain backstory is connected to the hero, the story and character arcs are even more compelling for readers. The perfect example of this, and the relationship between a hero you\'re rooting for and an engaging villain, is Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. They\'re connected through a shared backstory when Voldemort murdered Harry\'s parents. But they\'re also physically connected; Harry\'s scar on his forehead serves to remind both the characters (and the readers) about their connection throughout the story.  But how to write a good villain? It\'s important to remember that a great villain character design should include some likeable qualities. They can\'t be bad through and through because a reader needs to understand them and even empathise with them to an extent. Typical characteristics of a villain include them being intelligent, capable, persuasive, proud and deceitful. They might occasionally reveal aspects of their personality that are good and perhaps even kind, but creating a villain ultimately means creating a ruthless character at their core.  Anti-Hero Vs Villain To distinguish between an anti-hero and a villain, there are certain elements to look at. The first is motive. Villains are typically motivated by something dark and even evil. Their ultimate motivations are not sympathetic as they will usually involve the protagonist\'s demise (even though a villain\'s backstory might encourage empathy from a reader). However, an anti-hero\'s motivations are sympathetic. A reader might not agree with why they\'re doing what they\'re doing, but they will understand and sympathise with their reasons why – for example, revenge and vengeance. The second characteristic is big picture balance. What would the world look like if the anti-hero won? And what would it look like if the villain won? The hero will ultimately restore balance and normality, with good prevailing. In contrast, the villain\'s victory would see the complete opposite. It\'s understandable that the lines might blur, as both types of character can be morally ambiguous. But you can readdress the balance by keeping in mind who the audience will naturally sympathise with – the anti-hero who\'s the underdog with redeeming qualities, rather than the villain who may encourage a little sympathy but ultimately reveals themselves to be purely acting in their own interests or against the protagonist. A typical character arc of the anti-hero is that they grow into becoming a better person, but a villain will go in the opposite way.  What Is An Anti-Villain? While we\'ve explored anti-heroes and villains and how they\'re connected, it\'s worthwhile looking at another type of character: anti-villain. An anti-villain is somebody who isn\'t completely evil (unlike a typical villain). They\'re much more complex, and their actions don\'t necessarily have to be particularly wicked.  Types Of Anti-Villains Now that we\'ve looked at what an anti-villain is, let\'s explore the traits and characteristics that make up the different types of anti-villains. The Sympathetic Anti-Villain Example of the sympathetic anti-villain: Benjamin Barker, Sweeney Todd The sympathetic anti-villain is a character that the readers feel sorry for, and if some of their actions weren\'t so villainous, the readers might even root for them. The character\'s backstory is key here, as it must garner sympathy from the reader and tug on the heartstrings. It must reveal that the anti-villain is acting the way they do due to past circumstances outside of their control and because they don\'t see any other options open to them. The Well-Meaning Anti-Villain Example of the well-meaning anti-villain: Inspector Javert, Les Miserables The reader can see that this character\'s heart is in the right place, but they take things a step too far in pursuit of their goal. They are driven by what they deem is the \"greater good\" and will stop at nothing to reach their goals, making them ruthless and morally questionable. Ultimately, the character is making the situation worse, but they might not even be aware of it because they\'re too focused on what they think is right and wrong – thinking purely in black and white, with no room for a grey area.  The Situational Anti-Villain Example of the situational anti-villain: Carrie White, in Stephen King\'s Carrie This character might find themselves in a set of circumstances that set them against the protagonist. Or against themselves if they are the protagonist. For example, they might have started as a good person, but they\'ve come up against something that has pushed them to the brink of their limits, and now they\'re out for revenge. Or they might be simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The reader will understand that their acts and motivations could be justified, but they won\'t get away with it.  Choosing Between Your Anti-Hero And Your Villain There are some great characteristics and traits that can create compelling anti-heroes, villains, and anti-villains. Ultimately, the anti-hero does the right thing, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Whereas the anti-villain does the wrong thing, but their reasons are often understandable. And the villain is there to make life hard for your protagonist every step of the way. By incorporating these strong character types, you\'re making the story even more interesting for the reader.  For more writing support visit our blog or join Jericho Writers - the world’s leading writing community. With our membership you get access to resources including 100+ hours of video content and masterclasses, live online events with top authors, one to one with agents and publishers, as well as editorial and mentoring support. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Protagonist Vs Antagonist: A Complete Guide

When it comes to creative writing, the protagonist and antagonist characters are often the main focus and essential in telling the story. These are the characters with depth and complexity, the ones that move a story on, the ones we champion or that we want to see defeated. The conflict between the two is age-old – it creates tension, action and consequence, and, if done correctly, brings great satisfaction to the conclusion of a story. So how do we define a protagonist and an antagonist? How do we write them? What Is A Protagonist? A protagonist is a character who, in most situations, a reader will be rooting for. This character differs from other main characters because they are the ones that drive a story forward with their decisions and actions, and their goals reflect the goals of the story. Consider Lord of the Rings for example.The goal of the trilogy is good triumphing evil, and its protagonist, the big-hearted Hobbit Frodo, has the goal of destroying the ring and thus destroying Sauron who embodies evil. In most cases, a reader follows the protagonist throughout the story, however sometimes we see the protagonist through the eyes of someone else – a supporting character or through a third person narrator. Consider the famous play Blood Brothers by Willy Russell. The narrator is an enormous part but isn\'t the protagonist – the audience care only about the two brothers, Eddie and Mickey. Types Of Protagonists There are three types of protagonist: HeroThe classic good, morally upstanding, saves-the-cat-on-the-way-to-save-the-world kind of character. They will have flaws, but readers will have a fair inkling in knowing who\'s going to come out on top in this conflict from the word go. Think Harry Potter, Scout from To Kill A Mocking Bird, Luke Skywalker from Star Wars.Anti-HeroA deviation from the classic hero, often a reluctant or ill-equipped character who needs to navigate a situation thrust upon them. These characters may not be classic heroes, and they might also have some major flaws, yet they still evoke empathy and affection. Think Scarlett O\'Hara in Gone in with the Wind who, although spoilt and hotheaded, survives through wily means even when her glamorous southern belle life falls apart. Other examples are Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair, and Lyra from His Dark MaterialsVillainYes, you can still have a villain as a protagonist because a villain can still lead and decide the events of the plot. Think Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, Villanelle from Killing Eve, Grinch in The Grinch (who, OK, turns out good but man, in the beginning he\'s downright mean). Keep in mind when writing a protagonist that they need to be relatable. Your reader needs to care about what happens to them. If they\'re not flawed in any way, they won\'t feel real and therefore the reader won\'t care what happens to them. If they\'re too powerful, the reader will assume they can overcome anything and therefore the story will become boring – Superman maybe a classic hero but thanks to Kryptonite he still has one weakness. Yet, if they\'re too weak, the reader will feel annoyed at the character’s lack of gumption and won\'t root for them. And if they\'re too nasty, they won\'t feel like a protagonist. No one will want to see if they make it to the end of the book. What Is An Antagonist? An antagonist is a character working against the protagonist who, in most cases, the reader wants to see foiled. The antagonist creates the conflict and is generally seen as the \'bad\' one but, like the protagonists, there are different types of antagonists. Types of Antagonists There are four types of antagonists: The villainThis antagonist example is all about the evil-doing and often just for the sake of being evil (how liberating to be so horrible!). They live for the destruction of the protagonist and as such, they are mostly found in fantasy and sci-fi writing where the primary goal is ‘good triumphing evil’. Classic villains are The Emperor and Darth Vader in Star Wars, Voldemort in Harry Potter, the shark from Jaws (who still torments me to this day, so well done Peter Benchley for ruining swimming pools for me).The conflict-creatorThese antagonists are not necessarily a bad character. They are still very much human and have their own fears, hopes and dreams, but their goals work in conflict with the protagonist’s. They may also inspire the protagonist to act against their better judgment. Examples of a conflict-creator are Severus Snape in Harry Potter, Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, or Willy Wonka in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (he’s not an out and out bad guy, but he doesn’t make things easy for the children).Sometimes the antagonist in a story isn\'t even a person. Let\'s take a look at the inanimate forces that may challenge your hero...NatureThe antagonist in the Tom Hanks film, Castaway, is the relentless sea who won\'t let him leave the island. The antagonist in Bethany Clift\'s The Last One At The Party is the deadly virus that sweeps the world and leaves one woman pitted against the odds to survive a post-apocalyptic world.The supernaturalThe Shining is a perfect example of this force working against a protagonist.ObjectsThe ominous giant lighthouse in Emma Stonex\'s The Lamplighters causes three men to disappear. It\'s the perfect, atmospheric, antagonist.The protagonist themselvesThis internal conflict, for me, is the most satisfying antagonist, and which also brings the most rewarding conclusion to a story. A character starting a story at A, overcoming a flaw within themselves, and arriving up at B is my absolute favourite thing. The old man in Disney\'s Up is a great example of this – his antagonist is his own emotions, the grief for the loss of his wife which keeps him anchored in the past and unable to enjoy his life. Nudged by Russell, the boy scout, he discovers the joy and freedom of living again. As the saying goes, it’s often simply ourselves who are standing in the way of where we wish to go. It’s important to keep in mind that an antagonist must be as three dimensional as the protagonist. Their backstory should be just as important and relevant as that of the protagonist, and consequently their motivation should be something the reader can understand – even if they don’t agree. Voldemorts\' motivation to kill Harry in Harry Potter is because his broken and mutated soul got stuck in seven different places when he tried to kill Harry as a baby, so you know, if that\'s not motivation for a demise, what is?! Jaws was simply trying to score a meal. Making Your Antagonist Unforgettable Being creative with your antagonist can be a lot of fun and ensures they won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Let’s face it, everyone loves a baddie! They don’t have to be ‘ugly’ or scary or always in hiding, often the most dangerous can be loved by many. Look at giving them redeeming features to make them even more unsettling and unpredictable. Bond villain Blofeld was always cuddling his cat. How can a guy who loves his cat be all that bad? Let your protagonist find out! The Difference Between A Protagonist And An Antagonist A protagonist and antagonist are opposites – antonyms. The protagonists are generally the good guys (even it means that sometimes they are antiheroes) while antagonists are generally the bad guys. Look at the protagonists and antagonists in Disney films or in classic children’s fairytales. They are always perfect examples of clear conflict and well-matched foes. Basically, readers tend to empathise and relate to a protagonist, whereas they won\'t necessarily want to with an antagonist. However, they need to understand both these characters. Their friction needs to be relatable, or at least plausible. If we, as authors, want to hook readers into our stories, we have to make them care. And the only way they are going to care is by relating to our characters and understanding their motivations which drive the decisions they make. It\'s important that a writer addresses this for both the protagonist and the antagonist, not just to drive the plot forward but to connect with the readers. Whichever types of protagonist and antagonists you have in your story, always make sure they are worthy of each other. Opponents need chemistry in order to make a convincing and gratifying conflict. Think Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal who are very different characters but matched in an intelligence in which they find a mutual respect. Batman and The Joker are matched perfectly for their abilities to bring out a madness and darkness within each other. Sherlock Holmes and Jim Moriarty are matched in the depth of their intellectual game playing. Can A Protagonist Also Be An Antagonist? This is an interesting question with some conflicting points of view. For me, certainly a protagonist can be an antagonist. Villanelle from Killing Eve is the antagonist to Eve (the other protagonist) and slips her grasp constantly. However, the plot of the story is very much dual led. Villanelle is funny, unpredictable and wears outrageous clothing, and we find ourselves charmed by her despite her psychopathic, murderous ways. You can have real fun with this sort of protagonist. The appeal of writing someone who says and does questionable and outrageous things so far out of our normal everyday lives is big (at least it is for me, so I wonder what that says about me?!). As a reader, being thrust directly into the mind of someone villainous can be exciting. Not to mention it makes the baddie hard to forget. Also, the antagonist of the story can also be inside of the protagonist – such as the old guy from Up battling against his grief. Woody from Toy Story is another great example of the antagonist within the protagonist. He was Andy\'s most beloved toy until Buzz Lightyear was bought. His presence had a knock-on effect to the internal conflict within Woody – his insecurities and fear of being replaced meant his \'good guy\' persona was rattled and he had to work hard throughout the film to overcome it. Protagonists And Antagonists Make your Story Establishing a strong understanding of the roles played by antagonists and protagonists is essential for all writers. Develop your protagonist and antagonist alongside each other, keep their goals and motivations clear, keep their conflict electric, keep them real, but above all, ensure you enjoy writing them and your readers will be sure to love reading about them. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Round vs Flat Characters

A Complete Guide To Writing Round vs Flat Characters When you’re writing fiction, developing your characters is a crucial point in the writing process. You might have the most compelling plot in the world, full of romance and action and intrigue – but if your characters feel more like paper dolls than people, chances are your book isn’t ready yet. It’s important to be able to tell the difference between round and flat characters, and to know when it’s okay to let a character stay two-dimensional or when they really need that extra axis of development. So let’s dig in! Characters in Fiction Let’s define something out of the gate: what do we mean when we talk about ‘character development?’ Basically, character development is the process by which a character (particularly in fiction) is brought ‘to life’ by giving them motivations, personalities, wants and desires – making them feel vivid and real, essentially. It can also refer to the ways your characters may change over the course of the novel, their literal development on the page thanks to the plot. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be talking about two – well, three, but we’ll get to that – kinds of characters: flat ones and round ones. What is a Round Character and How Do I Write One? A ‘round’ character has layers. They’re nuanced and vivid, the kinds of characters you read about and wish they were your friends or to whom you feel an emotional connection. Essentially, the round characters are the story. These characters are your complex protagonists and antagonists, and your key supporting roles. They serve as the plot drivers because they make the decisions on where the story goes. A fully-formed, well fleshed out character doesn\'t happen overnight. Much like meeting someone at a party, it takes time to get to know them. They all start two-dimensional and then you add layers to them – it\'s like growing little onion-people! (Sorry for that strange insight into my brain.) A reader wants to care about your rounded characters, will want to be surprised by them, and will want to follow them on their journeys. The more we explain why someone is the way they are or acts the way they do, the more complex they become, and that\'s the beauty of a rounded character. A good tip is to spend time getting to know the characters that you need to be rounded, and this can be super beneficial before you start writing because that knowledge can influence and better shape your writing. Here are some tips on how to create them: Outline their goals and motivations A reader cares more when they understand our characters, and the key here is to ensure our reader knows what motivations are driving our character\'s decisions throughout the story. These motivations can be based on good reasons or bad, and will apply to both the protagonist and the antagonist. It seems that the appetite for understanding motivations has increased in storytelling, and so it’s worth looking at two beloved characters who’ve recently had their motivations brought to the big screen: JAMES BONDOver decades, we’ve seen a host of Bond films where he’s more or less the same character: a charmer and a killer. This had a certain appeal, to be sure, but it also made him rather two-dimensional. When producers decided to adapt the 1953 novel Casino Royale in 2006, we were suddenly shown insight into how Bond became a killer (that brilliant black-and-white opening sequence) and what motivated his callous charm (falling in love, discovering her deception, watching her drown). Now we understood why he behaved the way that he did, which made him far more human than he’d been before. THE JOKERPart of the Joker’s appeal in every Batman appearance prior to Todd Phillips’ 2019 film Joker was that he was a madman. He represented anarchy to Batman’s order – very archetypal, comic book stuff. But Joaquin Phoenix’s award-winning performance revealed a failed clown whose inner turmoil gave rise to the chaotic villain we’ve all come to know. Bring conflict into your character\'s life Conflict is not only a tool to drive the plot forward, but also shows a reader how your character will respond to a given circumstance. That in turn is interesting to a reader because it will show up traits in a character like their moral standing, etc. We can use another character to demonstrate conflict, or use an internal conflict, or even both. Take Woody from Toy Story as an example of both. He was Andy\'s most cherished toy until Buzz Lightyear came and took pride of place on Andy\'s bed (and heart). Note that introducing Buzz into the story – who posed no threat to Woody physically because they didn\'t have any historical conflict – had a knock-on effect to the internal conflict within Woody. Woody\'s insecurities and fear of being replaced meant his \'good guy\' persona was rattled. Let your character evolve A rounded character will learn something throughout the story, and they’ll be different by the end than they were at the start. Using Woody in Toy Story as an example again, his acceptance of Buzz by the end of the film – and his willingness to understand what it means to share Andy’s attention -- leaves him in a far different place from where he was at the beginning of the movie. You are a different person from who you were when you started your journey; shouldn’t your characters be, too? What is a Flat Character? A flat character is two-dimensional and uncomplicated. They are often minor characters (though not always) and their role in the story is usually a perfunctory one. It’s rare for a flat character to undergo any kind of development over the course of the story – usually because their development isn’t the point of the story. But that’s not to say that flat characters are a bad thing, or even something to avoid! They can be used for enhancing rounded characters and interaction between the two can reinforce the rounded character\'s strengths, traits and values. Think about The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz: she\'s simply evil and not given any backstory, but she makes Dorothy look like a saint with awesome morals via the ways in which she provokes conflict. Your flat characters might also be supporting roles like Miss Stephanie Crawford, the town gossip in To Kill a Mockingbird: someone who can help deliver the novel’s message and who can help spur the revelations of the rounded characters, but whose story doesn’t need to be filled out for the reader’s enjoyment. Let’s get into some tips on writing your flat characters: Flat Characters get Flat Names I tend to give my flat characters forgettable, common names, or even no name at all – sometimes a job reference will even do, eg. \'the waiter\' if they\'re just in one scene and delivering a cup of tea. Flat Doesn’t Mean Boring Your flat characters can have quirks that will delight a reader but won’t distract them. For example, you can have a clown who\'s not funny, or a dentist with bad teeth.Tom Bombadil is one of Tolkien’s most memorable inventions, but he serves a purpose in The Hobbit, not a distraction – or think about Dame Judi Dench’s performance in Shakespeare in Love, which won her an Oscar and she was on-screen for eight minutes! Enjoy them but don\'t spend lots of energy on them If you feel confused about whether a flat character needs more to them, the likelihood is that the reader will also feel confused about their role. Don’t let that compelling quirky weirdo who shows up in one scene take over the rest of your book (unless, you know, you want them to) – again, you don’t want your flat characters to be a distraction. That’s why they’re flat! Determine their relevance to the scene and then focus on that before getting on with your day. Difference Between Flat and Round Characters If you\'re not sure if you need a round or flat character in any given scene, ask yourself a simple question – do I need the reader to care about them here, or in the story as a whole? If the answer is yes, you need to give them some complexity. If not, they\'re the flat ones. Consider a classic battle scene in The Return of the King: The Ride of the Rohirrim, a last ditch attempt against all odds to save Middle Earth (no pressure). The sequence has both flat and rounded characters within it. We care about the collective force because they are representing the microcosm of the entire trilogy – good vs evil – in a spectacular and emotive way, but do we care about each and every one of the six thousand riders? Nope. We care about Theoden, Eowyn, and Merry – because those are the characters that have been given layers. We’ve spent time with them, seen their lives upended, witnessed their doubts and insecurities, seen their moral and emotional growth, and have agonised alongside them. And while we’re talking about speculative fiction, let’s use a role-playing game example: your well-rounded characters are, well, the characters you’re playing – while your flat characters are your NPCs, your non-player-characters. They’re the ones your main characters interact with along the way. What is a Static Character? A note: some main characters, including some quite famous ones, are decidedly static characters – by which we mean that they don’t change, even as they’re quite memorable and even by many respects ‘well-rounded’ characters. Remember what we were saying about the Joker earlier? Remove that 2019 film from your brain and think about the character again: we often don’t know his name, his motivations are unclear, and he serves mostly as a foil to our protagonist. Another, more literary, example would be Bertie Wooster (and Jeeves, for that matter!) from P. G. Woodhouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories. The relationship between Bertie and Jeeves will always be the same, those two men themselves will always be the same, and that’s really part of the joy of reading those stories: that those characters do not change. Without Character you Have no Story Your characters are the beating heart of your novel or story, and it’s crucial to make sure that you’ve invested them with the time and attention they deserve. Some of them might be well-rounded characters and some of them might be flat – but hopefully these tips and tricks will help you determine which should be which! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Character Arcs: What They Are And How To Create Them – With Template

by Dr Sharon Zink Character arcs are some of the most important tools in terms of writing compelling fiction, even if they’re played out on a smaller scale in a short story, but certainly when writing a novel.  They play a central role in not only establishing your lead’s motivations and thus narrative aims in a book and thus form the spine of the plot arc, but they are what makes the reader believe in and root for the lead which contributes hugely to how much they’ll invest in your story. In this piece, we’ll discover the different ways to develop a strong character arc, together with some examples and a template to help you create your own powerful character arc based on a lead who feels ‘real’ to the reader and who keeps them turning pages. What Is A Character Arc? Basically, in the course of a novel, or even a short story, a character needs to be pursuing a certain goal. What they want and why needs to be obvious to your audience so they can root for the lead to get their aim in the novel.  This goal is usually something noble, like finding love in women’s commercial fiction, solving a murder in a crime novel or even saving the world in action or adventure writing, although in literary fiction, the ultimate direction of the character arc might be something more subtle like seeking redemption or freedom.   However, whatever genre you’re writing in, your character arc is based upon this purpose or quest the protagonist is set on and is doggedly pursuing through the piece and your story arc will not have the poignancy or sense of purpose it needs without this being crystal clear to your audience and thus forming the backbone of your plot.  How Do You Write A Character Arc? One thing readers are looking for in a satisfying character arc is that the lead will have changed by the end of the book due to all they’ve experienced whilst fighting to get their narrative goal. Therefore, it’s key that your protagonist has grown by the end of your story arc and is not the same person as they were at the start.  First Act -- How Your Character Starts In some ways, this is the prologue work. Who is your character, on a fundamental level? Name, age, race, class, occupation -- the basics, yes, but also things like what kind of food they like, what their aspirations in life might be, if they\'re left or right-handed. (You don\'t necessarily have to know everything about them like their mother\'s maiden name or their third-grade crush or the places they want to visit before they die... but maybe those things are useful, so if you think of them, why not jot them down?) The arc begins (as does the plot of your novel or story) when the character\'s normal life is turned upside down by a trigger event or inciting incident – say, a murder in a crime novel which sets the detective on the hunt for the killer. As they do this, like any lead in any genre, they need to be proactive in going after their narrative goal, entering each scene with the intention to get their story arc aim or move nearer to it, only usually to fail or to make some progress, only to face an even bigger obstacle.  Second Act -- How Your Character Develops You\'re not the same person you were yesterday, and you\'re certainly not the same person you were last week, or last month, or last year, and so on -- and neither are your characters. As things happen to them (or because of them), their world changes and how they respond to those changes is key to developing their arc. Maybe the milquetoast office drone thrust into a plot of murderous high-stakes intrigue has discovered that she\'s actually really good in a knife fight. Maybe the fast-and-easy pirate has developed feelings for his first mate, despite saying that he\'d never settle down. Whatever the case may be, these developments and discoveries aren\'t happening in a vacuum: the character is going to have some feelings about what they\'re going through! So it isn\'t just that office drone turns out to be good with knives, but also that she\'s morally conflicted about how exciting she finds it. Authors often forget that there needs to be this emotional reaction after action to make their characters feel human to the reader, but then the planning part too, so the story arc has a causal connection and we see why one thing happens after another, this set-up ensuring the protagonist seems energetic and plucky and which keeps the story arc full of drama and an obvious forward-moving purpose.   Third Act -- How Your Character Ends Up As your plot builds to a climax or conclusion, the changes your character has undergone will be brought to the fore. How do they react to this new situation, with everything that\'s happened to them? Do they accept it? Do they fight against it? How will they attain their goal -- and how might their goals have changed, as they have changed? Bilbo Baggins is not the same hobbit when he comes home to The Shire as he was when he left. Some of that is obvious, but some of it lives in the background: he\'s traveled, he\'s seen horrible things and wondrous ones too, and now as the book comes to a close, he returns to a life that doesn\'t look familiar any longer. Your character doesn\'t have to go through such immense changes, but chances are they will whether you planned for them to or not. As your story comes to a close, your characters will have been pushed to their limits in one way or another and become someone new. It doesn\'t have to be satisfying, necessarily, but it should be real. It\'s unlikely that the knife-wielding office drone is going to be quite such a shrinking violet after everything that\'s happened to her -- and even if the pirate doesn\'t stay with his first mate, his heart might not be so freewheeling now. Conflicts – Internal And External An antagonist for your protagonist -- an opposing figure or force against your main character -- is a great way to help build out a character arc because it gives your character something to fight or push against, adding tension and strengthening the lead as the story arc progresses.  However, there can be other causes of external conflict than the villain figure, such as a confidant(e), which may be a best friend or family member, who acts as a sounding board for the protagonist and offers support, but who can also accidentally cause trouble for the lead due to well-intentioned meddling. This is something we sometimes see in chick lit, where the boozy best mate might tell the lead’s love interest they’re seeing someone else to create jealousy and supposedly add to the dreamy guy’s interest, but it just leads to a misunderstanding between the would-be couple and scares him off.   Indeed, terrible weather, a rough environment or even disasters can also be ways of preventing the lead from going after their goal, but they can also show their mettle too as often they will carry on anyway.  In terms of external conflicts, things get much more interesting when we put our leads in situations which are utterly hellish based on their past traumas or personal phobias or fears and make them face them! Say, in the simplest terms, someone hates spiders (like me!) and then our protagonist has to crawl through a web of poisonous arachnids to save the kidnapped girl which has been the goal of his or her story arc – not only will the reader be sat on the edge of their seat, wondering if the lead will finally overcome their terror for the sake of their bigger plot aim, but we’ll also be privy to the inner world of the lead and the immense inner pressure NOT to do this scary thing and this is called internal conflict.   It can feel mean to us writers, as we’re often so attached to our characters, but the best thing you can do to create a compelling character and story arc is to put your protagonist in the midst of an external situation that makes them quiver (public speaking is more scary to more people than death, believe it or not!) and ensure that you’re also showing the internal monologue of your lead as they fight against their fears.   You can even make them self-sabotage en route to their goals as humans are often wont to do. For example, a detective character could be out to make a big break in a case and then he’ll go out on an alcoholic bender which makes him lose the trail of the villain.   What If You’re Writing A Series? Generally, I tell author clients that if they’re new writers and want to write a series that they should keep this quiet in their submission package and make their first book as self-contained in terms of its character and story arc as possible so agents and editors can sell it as a standalone novel. This is because taking on a rookie is always a risk and the burden of having to sell multiple books may put some publishing personnel off.   In this case then, the character arc needs to be pretty complete by the end, with the story goal attained or near enough so, although you may want to allow a little wiggle room for a future sequel by not providing complete closure.   However, this is good advice across the board as a too sugary ending can seem unrealistic, but this also depends on the genre you’re writing in as certainly chick lit allows for more happy ever afters.  Obviously though, if you are intending to self-publish, you have carte blanche and often writing a series is a good idea as a way to develop a following, so your character and story arcs can be left more loose at the end, but with important questions left to be answered, despite the lead’s obvious growth, in order to intrigue a reader enough to buy the next book.  What Is A Flat Character Arc? Flat character arcs are exactly as they sound – they stay on a flat line, with the character neither growing in strength and awareness or falling from grace, as in Shakespearean tragedies. They mostly appear in genre fiction, like action writing – James Bond doesn’t change much for all his enemies and situational struggles, for instance – but, more and more, even genre writing is moving towards the emotionally shifting character arc of the protagonist playing a key role in the plot and the book’s overall interest.   If you think of most crime leads now, there’s often a wounded detective figure at the centre (something noted by James Frey in his books on thriller and mystery writing) who finds personal healing by solving the crime and Scandi Noir has brought the victims of the killed characters’ families to the fore so that these figures finding peace and moving on is a key part of the murder plot.   Hence whilst you can pull off a flat character arc by writing in a genre where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or add much nuance to your main figure, it often helps if there’s a sense of inner doubt about their ability to pull off the huge goal before them which adds something of Joseph Campbells’ ‘Hero’s Journey’ (which deeply influenced Star Wars) into play in which the hero hesitates in their confidence to pull off the story arc aim and this adds some important tension – even if, say, Frodo, is good at the start and good at the end of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and so, arguably, for all his struggles, a flat arc character.  How Do You Work Character Arcs Into Your Story Structure? One thing my first writing teacher, Leone Ross, taught me was to really get to learn about my main characters before I started planning my plot, let alone writing my book. She showed us how to create a template for discovering our protagonists in depth. Hence I create a list now that includes the character’s name, age, strengths and weaknesses, their goals etc. Editor’s note: we’ve compiled Sharon’s full list on this Character Arc Worksheet, free for you to download, keep and re-use as often as you need to! A Basic Example Of A Character Arc: Cinderella  Her nasty stepfamily (the opposition figures) are treating her like dirt when a handsome prince comes looking for his ideal dame (the trigger or inciting incident).  The mean girl stepsisters try to force Cinderella aside, but she’s determined to catch her man (the lead sets her story goal and her character arc flows from here).  She may be getting grubby scrubbing floors, but she schemes her way to the ball (character takes dogged action to get her goal and grows in defiance and strength).  She gets to the ball and catches the eye of the prince, only to have to return before her carriage turns into a pumpkin at 12 (darn external obstacle!).   However, she leaves her glass slipper behind and the prince is now so infatuated with Cinders that he scours town looking for its wearer – and, bam, as much as the mean stepsisters may try to force their feet in, only Cinderella’s dainty foot is a match (she gets her story goal and her character has grown from subservience to power and from loneliness and contempt to love).  Does Every Character Need An Arc? Minor players who don’t play a fundamental role like the lead, love interest, confidant(e) or opposition figure certainly don’t need a character arc as their role in your story arc is tangential.  These other key players though should have clear goals too which they pursue and which develop their character over the course of the story arc. The love interest’s aim should always be to win the lead’s love, the opposition figure fights to stop the lead getting their story goal and a confidant(e) is there to support the lead and let them talk about their main plot issues and inner turmoils, but they can also accidentally get in the way of the protagonist’s aims by causing mistaken mix ups and so on.  Hence we need to see the love interest growing as s/he strives to become the person the lead can adore and the opposition figure may grow in strength through conflict, but also face their own fears and weaknesses in this process so perhaps become changed by the end of the plot. A confidant(e) might well also develop in the process of supporting the lead through their journey, realising their own needs.   Conclusion A character’s arc or development involves their proactive pursuit of their story goal which is established when their life is changed by the inciting incident at the start. This helps create a lead readers will identify with and cheer for, but also makes a compelling plot.   The way your lead deals with external challenges, such as conflict with your opposition figure, extreme weather or terrain or natural disasters, as well as facing their inner demons, will all change them as the course of the novel goes on, usually bringing to the fore strengths they never knew they had, as well as some flaws and even possible tendencies to self-sabotage which all add realism to protagonists and make them three-dimensional.  Although some genres have flat character arcs without much, if any, development in the lead, generally it’s a good idea to show the evolution of your protagonist over the course of the book towards a positive end, such as healing grief, as well as getting their external goal, such as catching a killer.   Indeed, in most plots, there’s the main one – say, solving a murder – and a subplot perhaps involving romance, so it could be that both story arcs bring out different parts of the protagonist they didn’t know existed at the start.  However, it’s also important to remember to give character arcs and a sense of personal change to your other main players too, such as the opposition figure, love interest and confidant(e). The latter two don’t always need to be included in a story arc, but I’d argue that a lead without a villain has less chance of becoming all they can be as the enemy figure forces the protagonist to grow in strength and resourcefulness and confront their inner fears and traumas. Plus, without a concrete opposition figure, there’s less conflict, which is the lifeblood of fiction, and you risk your story arc losing drama and impact.  Get to know your lead and other key players well then, preferably by filling in a character questionnaire like the one above before you start work on your book or even short story. Keep asking yourself why, say, a character buys underwear from a certain place and on and on as this will reveal more and more of their values and beliefs and, even if you never directly use this material in your novel, it will give you a confidence as you write these characters.   After this, imagine the world through their eyes – not yours – considering the language or diction they would use as fits their education, interests and background, as this is key to establishing a convincing narrative voice and viewpoint, as well as creating distinctive dialogue – all on top of making a great character arc.  It’s worth every moment that you put into knowing your main characters and especially your lead, so you can convincingly show how they act to get their plot goal and react to the obstacles the villain and other external and internal elements which stand in the way of them getting their story arc aim.   It may be painful to see your treasured protagonist suffer as you make them face their worst fears, but it’s what will guarantee your book is gripping and up its chances of publication or be successful when you self-publish.  And, mostly, by the end, you get to give the lead their dream or a form of closure which life often doesn’t offer, so it’s not all bad news, but just being cruel to be kind to make them figures your reader never forgets.  About Sharon Dr Sharon Zink is a former English Literature academic and the author of Welcome to Sharonville (Unthank Books, 2014), which was longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award.  She is also a feminist writing coach, long-term Jericho Writers editor and founder of The Feminist Writing School which has a mission to get more womxn’s books written, published and out there changing the world, hosting online courses and in-person workshops and retreats.   She lives in the UK by the sea with her cat, Muse, and a large book collection. You can receive her weekly Love Letters from the Literary Revolution with a bundle of articles on writing as a thank you for joining her community, follow her on Instagram where she is drsharonzink or join her supportive feminist writing group on Facebook as she loves getting to know her fellow authors.   Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Protagonists And Antagonists, And How They Differ

Having a strong protagonist and antagonist is key to making a novel compelling, no matter what genre you are writing in. But what is the difference between them and how you include them in your book? In this piece, we’ll look at what protagonists and antagonists are, and the different types of characters which can play these roles. We will also explore the key elements which bring them alive, giving your manuscript that extra spark which will grab agents’ and editors’ attention from the opening page. What Is The Difference Between Protagonists And Antagonists? We all know every work of fiction needs a hero and a baddie, but how you portray them makes all the difference. An enthralling protagonist, often referred to as the lead, main character (MC), or hero/heroine, can make or break your story. After all, not every book is plot-driven...many much-loved works of fiction have a simple plot but a unique and memorable main character. However, the antagonist – which is also talked about as an opposition character or villain – creates much-needed conflict by getting in the way of the protagonist as they pursue their goals (ie the basis of the plot). The bad guy usually wants the exact opposite of the lead and will do all they can to stop them attaining their desires. Hence, whilst other factors like the protagonist’s own inner fears and turmoils, plus external factors like the environment, institutional bureaucracy and even the weather can all get in a lead’s way, the best means of really generating conflict (which is, let\'s face it, the lifeblood of fiction) is to create a protagonist who matches the antagonist in strength. Making sure your protagonist and antagonist are evenly matched not only gives your lead a great foil to fight, as they travel through their story arc, but it also injects energy into your plot and keeps readers rooting for the main figure. Having equal protagonists and antagonists also allows the main character to grow in a way which is vital to their development as obstacles are thrown in their way. Now let\'s take a look at our good guys and baddies individually, and how they differ.  What Is A Protagonist? A protagonist is the central character of a novel – the one whose journey we follow as readers. If they are the sole lead of the story, it is often their thoughts and actions that influence the \'voice\' of the novel and the tone in which it is told. Usually, the protagonist has the lion’s share of the viewpoint in the book and their narrative aims – which might represent one goal for the main story arc and another for the subplot – dominate the novel, being the focus of the reader’s attention and what they keep turning pages to discover.   The standard plot begins with the protagonist’s world being turned upside down by an inciting incident or trigger event which sets them off on a quest to find a new ‘normal’ by the end of the novel, this journey representing the backbone of the story arc.  Hence what the protagonist wants and why – their character arc – is key to creating an intriguing plot which readers will invest in.   Types Of Protagonists Every book needs a protagonist or lead character, even if other figures are given viewpoints in the plot too, but the nature of this main player can differ according to the particular genre you are writing in. For example, in police procedural fiction, a cop usually takes centre stage, but crime novels also often feature ordinary citizens who have personal motivations to solve a murder. An example of this is Rosamund Lupton’s bestseller, Sister, in which the protagonist is out to find the family member given in the title.   In chick lit or women’s commercial fiction, the protagonist is usually a woman caught up in the drama of her life (work, romance or family). And in fantasy fiction, the lead is often sent on a quest and has to fight many monsters along the way - such as Frodo in Lord of the Rings who sets out to take the ring to Mordor and save his world from dark forces.  Indeed, action and adventure fiction often has a similarly heroic lead who combats an evil villain to stop him/her destroying civilisation (just think of James Bond).  In young adult writing, the lead is often a teen who is either simply navigating the struggles of coming of age (relationships, school, sex, friendship) or who can also adopt the roles of an action or fantasy protagonist (ie the chosen one). In terms of literary fiction though, the protagonist’s identity is more diverse and their goals often more subtle, but they will always be there, often involving themes such as the lead finding redemption or healing, with romance still frequently being the core of the subplot.   Whatever you write about, a strong protagonist with a clear narrative aim is crucial to creating a powerful character. Their story arc is something to really consider and plan before writing the first word as it will influence your entire story (unless you’re the kind of writer who needs to hit the keys to discover one’s plot and characters). Can The Protagonist Be A Villain? This question often pops up as we’re largely taught that our protagonist should be sympathetic and likeable so we can root for them to get their goals. There is some truth to the power of a lead having a noble aim in a novel, but not all lead characters have to be likeable (look at Eleanor in Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, or Martha in Sorrow And Bliss). The key thing to remember is that, although we may not like the protagonist, we must understand and empathise with their motives. Even if they’re badly behaved (or even overtly negative or evil) if we can comprehend why a figure is acting a certain way, we can usually find ourselves drawn into their story. Hence why Satan is, arguably, the most intriguing figure in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and why we’re often drawn to serial killer and Mafia stories in true crime and fiction. After all, every human has a shadow side and fiction is the perfect place in which to explore that. So, yes, you can create what is often called an anti-hero or heroine, so long as you’re able to convey the reasoning behind their immoral actions in a way your readers can easily follow. This can be a delicate and complex act of characterisation though, so only engage in this if you’ve got the will to really delve into the darkness of the psyche and the reasons why bad people do what they do. How To Write A Protagonist If your protagonist is so important then, no matter what kind of book you’re writing, it’s essential to ensure that you create a powerful lead with a compelling need to meet certain narrative aims by the end of the book. You need to know what they want and why and to show them doggedly going after this throughout the story arc, entering each scene attempting to achieve their goal, whether the main one or that of the subplot (these are interwoven throughout with the main plot getting the most narrative space). A protagonist\'s story arc may involve solving a crime, saving the world as the deadline looms, or finding the love of their life. Often the protagonist’s story arc in literary fiction will be somewhat less obvious, but it is commonly concerned with getting freedom from something (like oppression, war, a bad marriage and so on) or freedom to do a certain thing (travel, seek spiritual peace, justice and so forth).   If you’ve got an anti-hero or heroine in play, the story arc may involve them in murder, world domination or other evil schemes, but it will be something which to them – and thus to the reader – makes sense.   The same is true when writing magical realism or fantasy protagonists with magical powers. As long as you can make the reader believe in the lead’s clairvoyant skills or their blue head with a hundred eyes, then they will care. And if they care, they will keep turning the pages! Getting your readers to feel like they are inside your protagonist’s body and mind is key to them connecting with the main character. Making them as human as possible, through the use of backstory, past trauma, flaws and inner conflicts, is what makes even the most unlikeable lead a hero we all root for. Take Hamlet and his notorious indecision, for example. This is a man who allows power, greed and his ambitious wife to steer him into a horrific mess from which he can\'t escape. As a reader we urge him to do better, we stay by his side because we too understand how easy it is to be influenced by our darker side, and we suffer alongside him at every turn. It\'s a huge testament to Shakespeare that, even four-hundred years later, his protagonists remains both relevant and memorable today.  Whether the villain the main character is fighting is external (the environment, a war, monsters), internal (depression, fear, doubt), or a fellow human being (a dark lord, a work rival, the devil himself), the reader need to know whose side they are on. So, let\'s take a look at this all-important baddie figure... What Is An Antagonist? As I mentioned above, an antagonist is the main figure who stands in the way of your protagonist’s story arc goals – the villain or opposition character who adds the most conflict to a narrative by doing their utmost to stop the lead getting their narrative aims. Types Of Antagonists In a mystery, a cop lead will want to solve a murder, therefore the antagonist may be the killer. Or maybe it\'s not, maybe it\'s another cop who wants to beat him to the chase. In a women’s commercial or chick flick novel, the protagonist may be in love with and out to catch a certain guy, but she might find herself face-to-face with an antagonist in the form of a love rival. Or maybe her villain is herself, standing in the way of true love. In literary fiction, where the protagonist’s character and story arcs may be more understated, the antagonist will have to be shaped more specifically to the lead’s particular narrative aims. Hence if they want freedom from a painful marriage, the main figure’s spouse could stand in their way, suffocating their bid for personal liberty and a new life. Indeed, as much as larger obstacles, such as war, can cause huge issues for a protagonists (ie a refugee’s attempt to escape dangerous lands with their child) it’s often important to also embody these issues in a specific antagonist figure. Hence a refugee could be confronted by a cruel or unyieldingly bureaucratic guard at a detainment camp, thus symbolising the broader struggle the lead is facing. This allows the protagonist to face a tangible threat in the form of an antagonist figure, rather than the mere abstractions of a situation, offering way more opportunities for fairly-match conflict. A refugee trekking across a hostile landscape may be impactful, but adding a one-on-one fight between a lead and the opposition figure (who in this scenario could be separating the lead from their children and imprisoning them) will definitely be more memorable. With this in mind, it\'s important you don’t start a novel without knowing your antagonist as well as your protagonist, even though the lead will take up most of the reader’s attention. Your opposition figure is there as a key for adding essential dramatic tension to the story, because everyone loves to see the main character battle with highs and lows (just watch a soap opera to see how many obstacles one character can face!). The antagonist also brings both the main character’s grit and inner issues to the fore, thus making them more three-dimensional and providing the reader with the expected sense of the protagonist’s personal growth over the course of their character arc. Hence an antagonist injects conflict into a story arc, but facing off against the opposition figure often makes the protagonist grow positively during the course of the novel by forcing them to confront their worst fears or work on their less pleasant personality traits. In this way, the baddie has the ‘side-effect’ of bringing out the best in your lead and thus performs a vitally important function. How To Write An Antagonist If your hero is going to be likeable (or at least someone the reader can empathise with) then, with your baddie, you can have fun creating chaos and a figure everyone loves to hate. Although, I’d also be wary of going over-the-top when creating an antagonist as we have to be careful not to lean on stereotypes of the moustache-twirling villain and, instead, come up with more original figures. You don’t have to recreate the wheel with genre fiction, but it’s always good to bring some freshness to writing as agents, editors and the general reader love to see angles they’ve never seen before, such as unusual and unexpected murderers or love rivals. The Darkling in Shadow and Bone is the perfect example of a dark lord who readers fall completely in love with...before realising he\'s the bad guy! Look carefully at your protagonist’s story arc goals to determine how your antagonist\'s personality and how they should act. For example, maybe they’re a female detective looking to solve a murder in the main plot and to find love with a fellow cop in the romantic subplot – and then create a figure who’s going to make their life hell by blocking the lead’s plot aims as best they can. Basically, the development of the antagonist is the primary means by which the writer puts their protagonist up a tree and then cuts it down, as the saying goes! Looking at our hypothetical cop story above, the antagonist could be the murderer who’s going to fight being caught tooth and nail. Perhaps they threaten the life of the main character\'s love interest as well as continuing their killing spree. You can see then that the protagonist and antagonist are really mirror images of one another, wanting exactly opposite aims and being just as dogged about getting them. The antagonist’s motives for acting the way they do needs to be understandable, so backstory will be needed. The reader needs to understand why the bad guy is doing what he\'s doing, even if their logic is warped. Adding Dramatic Irony When an antagonist is operating secretly against the lead, with the plot building up to a betrayal at the end, and the reader is privy to this while the protagonist is not – that literary device is called dramatic irony. This works really well as the reader is on the edge of their seat waiting for their beloved hero to catch up and see what they can see. In Shakespeare\'s Othello, he shows Iago’s manipulation of Othello, leading to the latter killing his wife, Desdemona, in jealous rage - even though she\'s innocent of committing adultery. As the audience watches on helplessly, they remain transfixed with grim fascination, forever wondering when the penny is going to drop. Dramatic irony often involved conflict behind the scenes - a form of confrontations between the antagonist and protagonist that isn\'t revealed until the end. For those starting out in writing it can be hard to pull off, so I’d encourage you to consider bringing your lead and opposition characters into each other’s immediate orbits, with verbal conflict and machinations by the antagonist standing in the way of the protagonist. Bad Is As Important As Good Whilst your work of fiction will invariably revolve around your lead, remember that the antagonist is also central to making a compelling story. So get to know your baddie as well as you know the protagonist. Without a strong protagonist, a story arc can lose its sense of drama and your lead can be seen to seamlessly flow towards their goals with too much ease - something which may lose your audience’s interest. Readers want to see the lead facing major challenges, preferably having a particular villain to focus our wrath on as the person who’s doing all they can to mess with our treasured protagonist’s story aims. Although we absolutely need to create a protagonist who readers can get behind (and to make it crystal clear what they want and why), an antagonist is a key part of developing the relationship our audience has with the main character. Give them a figure they can see confronting and obstructing their beloved lead, someone they can dread and loathe, but are also intrigued by. Maybe they even have some small sympathy for the bad guy\'s damaged humanity. Know Your Protagonist And Antagonist Well It’s crucial to know your antagonist as well as the lead, giving them good sides as well as flaws to make them more rounded and comprehensible, even if this takes some deep thought about the past or present circumstances which make them act the way they do. Indeed, if you’re struggling to come up with an antagonist to stand in the way of your protagonist, think who is most likely to have the most power to obstruct your lead’s story goals and who represents their deepest fears. Then turn those attributes into a character no one will forget in a hurry. As a writer, you may feel mean doing this to your lead, but remember that this is how you bring plots to life and, ultimately, develop your protagonist and allow them to shine. And when they shine, so does your book! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Punctuation for Writers: Tips & Advice

Punctuation for Writers of Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction Punctuation matters. Correct punctuation tells the reader how to read the words you have on the page: where to put the pauses, how to make sense of your sentences. It’s not too much to say that bad punctuation will kill a book. It’ll get rejected by agents and readers alike. Trying to sell a badly punctuated manuscript is like going on a date wearing last week’s jogging pants. The underlying problem is the same in both cases. The badly punctuated manuscript and the dirty jogging bottoms both say, “I don’t care.” I don’t care about you, my hot date. I don’t care about you, my precious reader. Any sane date will just make their excuses and leave. A reader will do the same – and quite right too. So here goes with a quick guide to the major punctuation marks. In each case, we’ll talk about: The basic ruleThe most common punctuation errors that writers makeMore advanced ways to use the tool Most of you reading this will know the basic rules. Even so, it’s likely that you’ll be committing at least some of the errors some of the time (a few of them are very common indeed.) And pretty much everyone will get at least something from thinking about how to use punctuation marks in a more sophisticated, writerly way. The Period, Or Full Stop (.) OK, you know when to use this little beast. You use it at the end of sentences, so long as those sentences aren’t questions or exclamations (in which case you’d use the “?” or “!” instead.) Easy, right? The Most Common Error One of the most prevalent errors in manuscripts written by first time writers is the so-called run-on sentence. It looks something like this: She was a breath of fresh air in our little town, she came into school on her first day with a bunch of garden flowers for the teacher and home-made candy for us, her schoolmates, it should have looked cheesy, but we fell in love with her on the spot. The error here is simple. The writer is using commas (“,”) where they should be using periods. The result is like someone just gabbling in your face, yadda-yadda-yadda, without giving you a chance to draw a breath or reflect. The solution is simple. You chop the sentence up with periods, to produce this: She was a breath of fresh air in our little town. She came into school on her first day with a bunch of garden flowers for the teacher and home-made candy for us, her schoolmates. It should have looked cheesy, but we fell in love with her on the spot. Phew! That’s a mile better already. Notice that there’s still a comma dividing two of the sentences (“It should have looked cheesy” and “we fell in love with her.”) The grammar-reason why that comma is OK is that you have “but” – a conjunction, a connector word – joining the two sentences. In a way, though, I’d prefer you to forget about the grammar and just listen to the rhythms. Say the first snippet out loud, then the second one. If it feels right, it is right. That’s pretty much all the grammar you are ever going to need. More Advanced Ways to Use the Tool Back at school, you were probably told to avoid sentence fragments – the name given to sentences that lack a main verb. (Like this one, for example.) That’s rather old-fashioned advice in some ways, and it’s certainly unhelpful advice to offer when it comes to writing fiction or creative non-fiction. Take my own work. My narrator is jerky, tough, awkward, abrupt. Her voice is all those things too, and the consequence is that her prose makes use of a lot of sentence fragments. For instance: There’s a woman at the wheel. Forties, maybe. Blonde. Shoulder-length hair held back in a grip. Blue woollen coat worn over a dark jumper.I kick the door. Hard. I’m wearing boots and kick hard enough to dent the panel. Pretty clearly here, the periods are dividing my language up into units of meaning, not into sentences. The words Blonde and Hard are just words, after all. They’re not even attempting to be complete sentences. Equally clearly, my narrator’s language forces that kind of punctuation on the manuscript. If you wanted to follow the “period = end of sentence” rule, you’d have to rewrite the text so it looked something like this: There’s a woman at the wheel. She is in her forties, maybe. Her blonde, shoulder-length hair is held back in a grip. She wears a blue woollen coat worn over a dark jumper. [and so on] That’s not just differently punctuated. It has a different tone, a different mood. It’s perfectly fine writing … but it’s not what I wanted. The “correct” punctuation ends up destroying the voice I worked hard to create. As a rough, rough guide, literary fiction will tend to have relatively few sentence fragments, while crime thrillers and the like will have many more. But fiction is much more supple than that general rule suggests. So yes, my character is tough. Yes, she uses lots of sentences fragments in approved noir style. But she also reflects on philosophy, quotes poetry, introspects extensive, and so on. In the end, you build from the character to the voice to the punctuation. It makes no sense to try building the other way. The Exclamation Mark (!) An exclamation mark (or point) marks an exclamation, denotes shouting, or otherwise gives emphasis to a sentence. It’s like a shouty form of a period. But watch out! You think you know how to use the exclamation mark, but … The Most Common Error The most common error is to use the exclamation mark! It’s fine in emails. It’s OK-ish in blog posts. But in novels? Avoid it. As Scott Fitzgerald remarked, “An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” It’s like you’re trying to make your punctuation compensate for a failure of your actual writing. If you want a rough rule of thumb, you can use one or maximum two exclamation marks per 100,000 words of prose. If you have zero, that’s just fine. And never, ever have a double or treble exclamation mark in your text. What’s fine on Twitter, looks just awful on the printed page. More Advanced Ways to (Not) Use the Tool So if I (like most pro authors) hate the exclamation mark, what do you do instead? After all, there may be occasions where you feel your work actually needs the emphasis. But consider these alternatives: #1 “Go get it.”#2 “Go get it!”#3 “Go get it,” he ordered her, sharply. Those options are ranked in approximate order of shoutiness. The first option doesn’t feel especially emphatic. The addition of the exclamation mark adds a little force. The third option adds even more, via a highly coloured verb and adverb combo. But neither of the last two options is great. And the issue here is simply this: the actual bit of underlying dialogue is fairly colourless, and that’s not going to change, no matter how many toppings you put on. In other words, if you started out with option #1 and found yourself thinking, “Hmm, this feels a little bland, so let’s get out the heavy-duty punctuation,” that should be a signal that you need to rewrite things. So a better option than either #1, #2 or #3 above would be: #4 “Go get it. Get it now. Give it to me. Never take it again.” You’re not using anything more than a common old period there, and you’re not resorting to ordering sharply, yelling loudly, yodelling wildly or exclaiming defiantly. But because your dialogue is now unmistakeably emphatic, it’s fine on its own. If the burger tastes great, you don’t need the relish. The Ellipsis (…) An ellipsis is a bit of a slippery brute. What it does is mark the fact that some words are missing. So, in dialogue, for example, people will often trail off, rather than actually complete a sentence. That much is easy – but how do you actually write it? Three dots is pretty much universal, but do you have spaces between them? Do you have a space before and after the ellipsis? And if you have the ellipsis at the start of a sentence, do you have a period (to denote the end of the previous sentence), then a space, then the ellipsis? That option sounds technically correct, but also rather fussy. The good news for you is that none of this really matters. Different style authorities advise different things, with some variation between British and American usage. And in the end, who really cares? Your editor won’t. Your agent won’t. Your reader won’t. It’s just not a big deal. I’d suggest, in general, that you use three dots without spacing in between, but with a space before and after. Like so: “Oh, Jen, if you really think that, then we should … I mean, maybe this was never meant to be.” The Most Common Error As with exclamation marks, the primary error is to overuse these little beasts. What works fine in an email, quickly looks annoying on the printed page. But whereas I’d advise you to hunt the exclamation mark almost to extinction, you can let the ellipsis breathe, just a little. One ellipsis per chapter is probably too many, but you’d have to be quite a fussy ready to object to half a dozen, or even a dozen, over the course of a full length novel. More Advanced Ways to Use the Tool As with the exclamation mark, the best way to use the ellipsis is to let it nudge you into querying your own writing. If you feel yourself wanting to use the ellipsis, just check that it’s not your writing that needs to change. In nine out of ten cases, adjusting your text will be a better option than using the ellipsis. The Semi-Colon ( ; ) The semi-colon is a divider, the way commas and periods are dividers. The comma is the lightest of these in weight: it inserts the shortest of pauses. The period inserts the maximum pause. The semi-colon lives somewhere in between. Here’s an example of all three in action: It never normally rained, but the weather that day was awful.(comma = minimal pause)It never normally rained; my mother didn’t even own an umbrella(semi-colon = mid-weight pause)It never normally rained. That day, though, there was a deluge.(period = strongest pause) And look: you can live without the semi-colon completely. Personally, I quite like semi-colons, but my narrator, Fiona Griffiths, never uses them, so in about 750,000 words of published Fiona Griffiths’ novels, there’s only one semi-colon – and that enters the text via a direct quote from Wikipedia. Short message: if the semi-colon scares you, it’s fine to leave it well alone. The Most Common Error There are no common errors with semi-colons, except maybe overuse by people thinking they’re fancy. More Advanced Ways to Use the Tool Thinking of semi-colons as a middle-weight pause is technically correct, but it misses something, nevertheless. A better way to conceive of the mark is this: You need a semi-colon when you have two sentences, and the second one corrects or modifies the meaning of the first. So take those examples above. We used a semi-colon in this context: It never normally rained; my mother didn’t even own an umbrella. The first sentence is, in effect, adjusted by the second. The semi-colon tells us to read the second sentence as a kind of comment on the first one: “look, here’s just how much it never rained.” Or, if you want a slightly more grown-up example, here’s William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury: Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. But you can get too hung up on these things. Arguably, sentences that speak about each other shouldn’t need any punctuation to get their point across. The text itself should handle the communication just fine. So there’ll be plenty of writers (including my narrator) who’d agree with Kurt Vonnegut’s lesson in creative writing: First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. And who cares if you’ve been to college, right? Parenthesis Brackets () | Dashes – – | Commas ,, There are three types of parenthesis you can use. They are: Commas: The comma, always a useful creature, can be used to separate one clause from the rest.Dashes: The dash – a more forceful beast – can be used in much the same way.Brackets: The bracket (perfectly fine in non-fiction) is relatively rare in fiction. But these three are not equivalent, and not equally common. I just opened up my Word document that contains the entire Fiona Griffiths series, and checked to see how many of each punctuation mark I used. In about 650,000 words of text, I used: 39,000 commas, of which, admittedly, many thousand wouldn’t be parenthetical.5,000 dashes, though most of these were actually hyphens, as in “short-tempered”. So I’m going to guess maybe only 1,000 actual dashes.100 brackets, of which many were things like “in Paragraph 22(c)”, where the use of the bracket isn’t really a parenthesis in the normal way. The Most Common Error There are two common errors when it comes to parenthesis. The first error is not to use anything to mark off a clause from the rest of a sentence resulting in (often, but not always) a sentence that is just plain hard to read. For example: The comma always a useful creature can be used to separate one clause from the rest. Tucking commas in around the useful-creature clause makes the meaning pop right out. The second error is kind of the opposite. It’s as though writers get worried that commas aren’t emphatic enough, so they start clamping their text inside brackets, like this: She couldn’t get enough of him (understandable, given her past), so she tried to find reasons why he couldn’t leave. And that feels heavy-handed. A simple rewrite releases the sentence and lets it breathe: Understandably, given her tangled past, she couldn’t get enough of him and she tried to find reasons why he couldn’t leave. There’s more flow there. Less sense of an author forcing information at you. The no-brackets alternative seems much more natural to fiction. The with-brackets version is better suited to the information-delivery task of non-fiction. More Advanced Ways to Use Parenthesis The real trick with parenthesis – and with commas particularly – is to learn to feel the weight of a sentence. In most cases, commas will cover your parenthetical needs. If you need to rewrite something to make it work, then rewrite it. If you need the greater weight of dashes, then go for it, but recognise that you are, in a small way, pulling on the handbrake mid-sentence. If that’s what you want, fine. In many cases, there’ll be better options. Oh, and though I personally never read my text out loud, lots of authors swear by it – and any hiccups or awkwardness as you read is a huge clue that your punctuation or your text (or both) are at fault. Hyphens and Dashes The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash We can’t quite leave a post about punctuation without talking about the various dashes available to you. Specifics in one second, but first, a public annoucement: The specifics don’t really matter. Yes, a lot of writers (especially those college-educated brutes that got Vonnegut all riled up) care a lot about their en dashes and their em dashes. But if you’ve never spent a moment caring about them in the past, you don’t have to worry that you’ve been doing something very wrong. You haven’t. Any “errors” on this scale will bother almost nobody – neither readers, nor agents. So, here’s what hyphens and dashes are and how to use them. The Hyphen The hyphen is on your keyboard as a minus sign. You use it to connect words, as for example: The hot-headed wood-cutter tip-toed past the one-eyed she-wolf. Apart from a slight anxiety about whether a hyphen is needed in a particular context (is it woodcutter or wood-cutter?), it’s hard to get these little fellows wrong. Oh, and although everyone will have a house-style defining when to use hyphens, everyone’s style guide will be a bit different, so there’s often not a clear right and wrong here anyway. The En Dash The en dash is so called because it is a dash approximately the same width as the letter N. And it doesn’t live on your keyboard anywhere: you have to give it life and breath all by yourself. You do this by hitting Ctrl and the minus sign at the same time, to give yourself something that looks like this: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) As that example suggests, it’s used mostly for dates, or for things that feel much the same, for example: Washington–New York (in the context of a flight timetable, for example.) The Em Dash The em dash is so called because … well, you’re going to have to guess which letter-width it’s named after. You create this little critter in Word by hitting Ctrl-Alt-minus. And the em dash performs the following functions: It marks an interruption in dialogue.“The buried treasure,” he said, as he lay dying, “the treasure can be found just to the right of the old—”It marks a parenthesis in the middle of a sentence.The em dash—more forceful than commas—marks out a parenthesis in the middle of a sentence.But it can also mark out a parenthesis at the end of a sentence.He was allergic to fruit, sunshine, exercise and soap—or so he always insisted.(The “so he always insisted” part is the parenthesis here. If you were using brackets, that whole end chunk would be enclosed in brackets.)It can be used as a slightly informal colon.The result of that informal colon—often a little hint of comedy, or something of a “ta-daa” quality.It marks deleted or redacted words.The accuser, Ms — —, struck a defiant tone in court. Best practice is generally to use the em dash without a space before or after, but that’s one of those things that doesn’t actually matter. Newspapers tend to use spaces and British usage is much more tolerant of spacing and lots of people just don’t know the rules anyway. That’s it from me. Beautiful punctuation is often a sign of careful writing and a beautifully readable book. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

10 Tips For Writing Really Bad Villains

Ever wondered what goes in to writing a nasty villain? Or what makes a good villain? Guest author C M Taylor has put together his top tips for writing the best villains, plus everything else you need to build a well-rounded bad guy. How To Create A Good Villain The term ‘villain’ defines an evil character who personifies the forces which thwart the progress of the main character. Now, while it is feasible that the villain is the main character – and we will come on to that less usual and more nuanced situation later on – in the vast majority of cases, the villain is villainous in relation to opposing the needs and desires of the main character. This structural role of antagonising the main character is the reason the villain is often described as the antagonist. They are a character who stands in negative relation to the spiritual, emotional, moral or financial progress of the main character, a character who is often described as the protagonist. 1. Thematically Develop Your Villain A writer can usefully begin their creation of a villain using villain characteristics via an understanding of theme. Are you writing about loyalty, for example? In which case, your protagonist has issues with loyalty which they must overcome, via the obstacles of the plot, to achieve a healthy, positive attitude to loyalty. Hence the role of the villain is to embody and prosecute a version of loyalty which is negative but tempting, which is corrupt but seductive, which might derail the heroic character’s attempt to achieve a healthy version of the theme. It is the villain’s job to oppose the progress of the hero, and so, knowing the specific thematic nature of the progress which the hero must make, that necessarily takes you some way to defining the nature of your villain. Your villain must be suitable and specifically adept at preventing the thematic success of your hero, hence must embody a negative version of that theme. 2. Create A Compelling Backstory So, once you have understood your theme and decided which negative version of the theme is embodied by your villain, you next ask yourself why they are like this. For an example, let’s stick with the theme of loyalty. Your villain might espouse a version of loyalty which states you must have only loyalty to yourself, or loyalty to chaos, or loyalty to crime, or loyalty to the dead. Any unhealthy version of the theme will do. Let’s pick they have loyalty to chaos and want to bring disorder and anarchy to the whole world. Why are they like this? Their parents were unbelievably controlling and up-tight and rational and crushed the villain with their excessive punctiliousness maybe. Or the villain and their brother were in some youth cadet force which was all about order and discipline and the brother died in an accident born of excessive following of the rules. You see, one you have your thematic relation, you move to explain it via the backstory. 3. Build Emotional Logic Our thematically-driven excavation and development of the villain’s backstory allows us to take an emotionally logical approach and explain why the villain is like they are. Continuing with our theme of loyalty, our rule-following cadet was eager and good to start with, tragic events having turned them on to a negative chaotic version of loyalty. Or our young child started off good but was hounded by neurotically rule-bound parents to crave the release of chaos. If you show the reader that it is emotionally logical for the villain to have passed from a state of health to their current corrupted self as a consequence of events, you humanise the villain. You make the reader think that they themselves might plausibly have reacted the same way in the same circumstances. You give the villain an emotional plausibility and a gravitas. And a decent villain needs gravitas, needs the emotional plausibility and heft to pull the villain into their version of the theme, into their version of reality. A good villain is like a moral centrifuge. What they pull towards them and put in peril is the hero’s self, their morality, the hero’s version of the theme. Showing it was entirely reasonable for the villain to arrive at the moral place they are in shows that the hero might arrive their too, and so puts a huge amount of jeopardy in play for the hero. 4. Show Physical And Mental Scars The clichéd villain is often physically disfigured, right? There being a suggestion of a relationship between moral and physical disfigurement. I would however caution against this simple equation, quite apart from it perpetuating discrimination against people who are unfortunate enough to be physically disfigured, it has been done to death. Why not mix it up? The hero is trying to overcome prejudice against their physical disfigurement while the gorgeous villain is prone to the ravages of narcissism. 5. Add In Super Human Gifts Your protagonist has to be special. In some genres like fantasy or science fiction they can be ‘the one’ level of special. In genres such as crime or thriller they can ‘exceptional human being’ levels of special. In genres such as romance or realism, they can ‘normal person pushed to the edge behaves heroically’ levels of special. And if your protagonist is special well, given that it is the job of the villain to oppose the protagonist, then in order to seem anything like able to compete with the hero, the villain needs to be special too. 6. Make Your Villain Unbeatable Every villain needs to seem unbeatable to start with. The obstacles they place in the way of the protagonist must seem insurmountable. If the hero can beat the villain at the beginning, then there are no struggles needed. It is the insurmountable villain that causes the hero to develop and grow. It may be that your story is a tragic and the hero fails to beat the villain in the end. However it ends, in the beginning there must be no way that the hero – in their current state – can compete. 7. Writing Well-Rounded Bad Guys And Villains Why do villains matter to fiction?  Answering this involves taking this question right back to ask ourselves: what is a story? The crux of a story is concerned with how the main character changes, or fails to change, over time, in contact with internal, external and relationship pressures. A story is a map of this change over time, or this failure to change over time. The change is both an internal, emotional journey and an external, physical journey. Now if the journey comes easily, then there will be no drama, because drama requires struggle. The journey which the protagonist goes on needs to be ripe with struggle – with obstacles, tests, high stakes. The most common and identifiable way to manifest struggle is to have it between people. Between the antagonist (or villain) and the protagonist (or heroic character). It is the antagonist who provides the obstacles standing in the way of the protagonist’s need to consummate their change. It is the test of wills between the antagonist and the protagonist that generates the struggle. On a very simple level, in terms of the mechanics of plot, it is the villain who sets the test and the heroic character who sits the test. It is the villain whose actions provoke the need for the hero to act. Batman without The Joker would have no need to act. The villain is a dark twin to the hero. The villain embodies the shadow qualities of the hero. The villain is what the hero might have been, what the hero might be, should they make the wrong choices, which is what gives rise to the clichéd piece of film dialogue, ‘We are not so different you and I, Mr Bond.’ If the heroic character struggles to embody the positive possibilities in a work of fiction, the villain convincingly embodies the negative aspects. The villain personifies the specific forces of antagonism which aim to prevent the protagonist from completing their internal and external journey. 8. Does Every Story Need A Villain? The short answer to this question is no – in terms of the villain being a physical personification of antagonism, not every story has or needs this. A story needs antagonism, yes, and most usually this antagonism takes the form of a human being standing in opposition to the progress of the heroic character, but it is not necessary to do this. Antagonism can be generated in other variations than the single, embodied villain. The antagonism might be within the heroic character themselves. It might be a mistaken belief about life which leads them astray or into repeated unhealthy actions; or it might be an addiction. Note that choosing to centre the antagonistic force internal to the main character influences what type of story you are telling. It would be hard to make this choice and write an action story, for example. The choice to situate the main antagonistic force internally, as an aspect of the heroic character, is more associated with character-led stories – literary or dramatic works, or sometimes the psychological thriller. Whereas the more traditional human villain personification of antagonistic force is more usual within crime or fantasy or action stories. There are other forms of antagonism too. It might be centred around a group of people. It might be the family that a young person needs to escape to ‘become’ whole. Or it might be the pain still felt when a parent abandoned a child. Or it might be a best friend who continually leads the main character into activities which are against their best interests. Basically, antagonistic forces can be anything as long as they are the main obstacle in the way of the protagonist achieving what they most need. Traditionally this force has been embodied via the personification of a villain, but the villainous function can be performed within a story by other forces. 9. How To Create A Likeable Villain As I write above, the villain stands or falls on the plausibility of their world view – the villain is the hero in their own eyes. If you can show why the villain has ventured from the path of moral health to become the creature they are today then you have created the route by which the reader can empathise with the villain. And if they can empathise then – in the current parlance – they can possess relatability. All the best characters are layered, multidimensional and above all, unique. So, if your bad guy can have some redeeming qualities, or a journey that the reader can connect with, then that could definitely make for an interesting read. 10. What If Your Protagonist Is A Villain? Your protagonist can be both hero and villain – look at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Or your protagonist can be a criminal – look at The Godfather, at Breaking Bad, at The Sopranos, at Crime and Punishment. Or your protagonist can be an anti-hero – look at Mr Robot.  They can be any of those things. As long as they are subject to thematically congruent antagonistic forces, the rules are the same. As long as we know why they are like they are – In The Godfather, Michael Corleone gets pulled back into the family business of murder and extortion through love of his threatened father. Walter White sells meth – initially at least – to protect his ill family in Breaking Bad. Elliot from Mr Robot illegally hacks computers to out greater criminals. This is a common strategy – outflanking your villains with even greater villains to make your villain comparatively empathetic. Look at Dexter. Yes, he is a serial killer, but he only kills people who are themselves worse than him. He performs bad acts for a comprehensible and relatable reason. 11 Examples Of Evil Villains And Bad Guys Tricking Othello into murdering his own wife makes Iago a pretty good start to our collection.Another trickster, in Treasure Island, Long John Silver tricks Jim Hawkins, disguising his own role as leader of the mutiny.Why do we care for and want the sociopathic murder Tom Ripley to escape throughout Patricia Highsmith’s Mr Ripley novels? Because he feels love and we feel his vulnerability and inadequacy.And why do we admire Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ novels? Because he is brilliant and stylish and logical.Only somebody as prodigiously gifted as Moriarty could aspire to being a villain worthy of Sherlock Holmes special powers.Anne Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery turns out to the fan no writer wants.Xan may seem like the villain in P D James’ The Children of Men but isn’t the broader antagonistic force that of infertility itself.No mistaking that it’s a shark who is the villain of Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws.Isn’t narcissism the antagonistic force in play in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey?Are dinosaurs the antagonistic force of Jurassic Park? Rather I would say it was the human vanity and over-reaching that lead to the recreation of dinosaurs in the first place. Same with Dr Frankenstein – it’s the Dr not the monster who sets the test.Isn’t the entire Republic of Gilead the antagonist force in The Handmaid’s Tale? Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Character and characterisation in novels: techniques, examples and exercises

How to write great characters in your novel.How to make them lifelike.How to make them dazzle. What makes a reader glued to a book? What makes that person come back to it again and again? As a rough guide, people turn the pages because of plot, but they remember a book because of character. Don’t believe us? Then answer this. Can you recall, in detail, the plots of: To Kill a Mockingbird?The Hound of the Baskervilles?The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? We’re going to bet not. But do you remember Scout and Atticus? Holmes and Watson? And the badass Lisbeth Salander? Of course you do. And that’s the aim of this post: helping you achieve the same level of vibrating life that these characters achieved. In effect, we’re going to tell you how to develop a character that can be used for both the protagonist (hero) and the antagonist (bad guy). How to write the kind of characters that will elevate your novel to a whole different plane. And it’s not magic. It’s just the logical application of tried-and-trusted writing techniques. But let’s start by figuring out what character development is, and how it works for you. Don’t want to wait for the blah?Just download our 200+ question Character Bio Template. It’s freeGet the Ultimate Character Profile Template What Is Character Development? Character development is two things: Character development is the the process by which an author develops a detailed character profile. This activity is usually done in conjunction with plot development and takes place as part of the planning process, before the writer actually starts to write.Character development also refers to the way a character changes through the course of the novel, generally in response to the experiences and events gathered through the course of the story itself. This is known as the Character Arc. (Need more? Get plot structure advice here.) Those twin definitions are immediately helpful. Yes: you have to develop a character profile before starting to write, but you also have to knit your character so closely to the story you’re going to tell that the two things seemed joined at the hip. Ideally, the reader won’t be able to imagine any other character occupying your story – just like you couldn’t imagine Girl with a Dragon Tattoo without the inflammatory, exciting presence of Lisbeth Salander. So: the first question is, how do we choose the right character for the story we’re about to tell? That’s up next. Plan Your Character Arcs The two basic character types in fiction – and how to choose the one who’s right for your novel. There are two basic types of main character (or protagonist) in fiction: The first type is an ordinary character plunged into the extraordinary. And, by this process, they become a little more extraordinary themselves.The second character type start out extraordinary – they could make things happen in an empty room. You need to be careful about identifying which character is which. You might think that Harry Potter can’t be ordinary, because he’s a wizard. But think about it. He seemed like quite an ordinary boy. And when he gets to wizard school he seems quite ordinary there too (daunted by the school, a bit scared of Hermione, and so on.) He’s an ordinary wizard who finds his inner extraordinary self over the course of seven books. Lisbeth Salander, however, never strikes the reader as ordinary. She’s a rule-breaking, computer genius with anti-social traits and a scary capacity for violence. You just know she’s going to cause waves, no matter where she goes. Here’s a quick way to figure out what kind of character yours is: Ordinary Characters Will typically refuse adventure, or accept it only reluctantlyWill typically have something of the boy next door / girl next door quality to them. That doesn’t mean they have to be boring (we’re all different after all), but it does mean that they can act as a kind of placeholder for the reader. “That person could be me. That adventure could have been mine.“Will typically find something heroic or extraordinary in themselves as a result of the adventure. Something that was buried becomes visible.The adventure has to echo or vibrate with whatever is distinctive about the character. So at the very start of the Harry Potter series, Harry seems like an ordinary boy, except that he’s an orphan. No wonder then that the entire series revolves around Harry completing the battles of his lost parents. Extraordinary Characters Will often leap into adventure. May even create it.Will typically seem nothing whatsoever like the nice kid next doorWill have something astonishing in them all the time. Something that probably makes them look awkwardly ill-at-ease in the ordinary world.But, as with ordinary characters, the adventure will resonate with who they are. Sherlock Holmes is a detective – so let him solve crimes! Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a CIA guy, so drop him into a thriller, not a schmalzy love story! What A Character Arc Looks Like You can already see how these three things need to intertwine: Your character’s profile at the start of the bookThe story your character plunges intoThe way your character develops through the course of that story So for one hyper-simple example, you might have: Harry Potter starts out as an ordinary boy, albeit one with natural wizarding abilityHe is plunged into a life or death battle against VoldemortHe discovers previously unseen reserves of courage and resourcefulness – he finds his inner extraordinary. Here’s another example of the same thing, this time from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy Bennet is an ordinary young woman, but somewhat prone to impulsive and immature judgementsShe is plunged into a tumultuous love story, and …Discovers new wisdom and maturity. These things are beautifully simple when you see them – but needless to say, designing something beautifully simple ain’t so easy. (Just ask Steve Jobs!) Build Your Character Development Arc Your first task? Simple. Just do the same thing as we’ve just done for Harry Potter and Lizzy Bennet. Take a sheet of paper and write out – in a few words only – the following: Your character’s broad start positionThe nature of the storyThe way your character develops as a result of the story you are telling. Do that exercise. Make sure you’re happy with it. And when you are – congratulations. You’ve just taken your first big step in developing your character. Try Our Ultimate Character Profile Template Also called a “Character Bio Template” Figuring out who you want to lead your story is the first essential of success. But the next part – the fun one – is every bit as important. And the rule here is simple: You have to know your main character better than you know your best friend. That’s it. The simple fact is that strong characterisation is based on knowledge. The only way to write a really convincing, lifelike, vibrant protagonist is to know them inside out. If you have this knowledge, you will find yourself using it. If you don’t have it, you can’t. So the problem of writing character comes down to this: you have to know protagonist. And we’ve got a brilliant technique to help with just that. If you haven’t yet started your book, then work on the character creator exercise below before you start. It makes developing a character so much easier. Or cheat! It’s fasterWhy not download our 200+ question Character Bio Template? It’s freeGet the Ultimate Character Profile Template If you have started, but think that maybe you started prematurely, then back up. Do the exercise and then read back through your work, looking for places where your characters seem a little blank. So. Let’s start. Use A Character Profile / Bio To Develop Stunning Characters Begin with a blank sheet (or screen). And begin to write down everything you know about your central character. Don’t be too concerned to edit yourself at this stage. Just let rip: this will be your character profile. It helps to group your comments a bit under certain themes, but if that inhibits your flow then just write. Group your notes up later. You should cover all kinds of topics, including: Backstory Where did your protagonist come from?What was their childhood like? Happy or sad?What were relations like with their parents? Or brothers or sisters?If their father was (say) extravagant, what impact did this have? If their mother was (say) easily tearful, how did this affect them?And what about now, where relations with others are concerned?Were there key incidents in childhood that shaped this person in a way relevant to your book’s story?What about more recent backstory? Their move to Arkansas, joining the army, their first girl/boyfriend? Sketch those things out too. Write how your protagonist’s backstory has shaped their drives, their character arc, and will shape your plot. It helps if examples are concrete, showing your protagonist via actions and choices in specific situations. (And yes: showing matters. If you need a show vs tell refresher, we’ve got it for you.) Looks And Physical Attributes Get to know how your character looks, how they inhabit their body and how they interact with the world: Is your character tall or short? What hair colour, face & body shape, what eye colour?Are they physically graceful? Or clumsy? Or what?What animal do they most remind you of?If you had to choose one image to represent this person, what would it be? [Hint: the best answers to that question often float between the physical and something a bit more spiritual. There’s often something mobile in the image, not just static. examples: “She was like a deer grazing in snow.” or “He was like an iron sword of the old type. Unbending. Strong. Prone to a sudden, flashing anger.”]How does your character sleep?How do they fiddle?Are they impatient?How do they eat? What foods do they love and hate?What do they look like from a distance? Or close up, when seen by a stranger?What is their voice like? Or their laugh? Think of an actor or actress who could play your character. If you need a visual image to work from, then look through magazines until you’ve got something you can use. Pin it up close to where you work, and work from that. Or create an inspiration board, either a real one or using a site like Pinterest, to pin images of your characters, of story aesthetic, etc Your Character’s Personality Is your character sunny and carefree, like Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice?Or hardened, unforgiving, like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?What impression would they make on a casual observer?Are they screwed up in any way?Are they conflict-avoiders or conflict-seekers?Are they sensitive or selfish lovers?How emotionally involved would they get?How does all of this feed into their character arc (ie: the way they develop through the story)?If you answered a Myers-Briggs personality test in character, what would your character’s results be? Relationships Why has your character chosen this partner?Is he or she like the partners your character normally goes for?Do they go in for cutesy baby-talk? Or hard-edged flippancy? Or reflectiveness?What are their pet names for each other?Do they encourage maturity in the other or bring out the less mature side?What are their disagreements about? Do they row, and if so, how? How do they mend rows?What does one love most about the other? What do they most dislike?What is your predicted future for the relationship beyond the end of the novel? Goals, Fears, Ambitions Be sure, most essentially, you know your characters’ deeper goals and motivations. What’s their deepest wish?What are they most afraid of?What would failure mean for them? What voices would they have in their head commenting on that failure? (eg: a critical parent, or a disappointed friend.)What’s the goal, the thing they most desire?Does it change? And why?What’s their motivation for wanting it. What does it say about their nature? The Ultimate Character Profile Template The very best way to get to know your characters is to do this: Write a list of 200+ questions about your characterThen answer them Do that, and before too long, you’ll know your character with utter intimacy. You’ll move beyond some mechanical character development exercise into deep, fluent, easy knowledge. Do note that you have to write the questions before you start answering them, otherwise you end up just asking questions that you already know answers to. Oh, and it’s incredibly hard to come up with a really long list of questions that really probe everything about your character – so we’ve done it for you. We’ve created the Ultimate Character Builder, and it’s yours for free. Get the Ultimate Character Bio Template. Give yourself an hour or two on that exercise and, quite honestly, your development of character journey is mostly complete. Nice to know, right? Build Empathy With Your Characters When you are writing a character, their motivation matters so much. You know that thing that literary agents do? “While we liked your book a lot, we didn’t quite love it. We didn’t quite feel empathy with your main character, but wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.” Makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? And the issue is NOT that your character isn’t nice enough. It’s not that she needs to do more home-baking, or go to more church meetings, or smile more sweetly. The equation is simply this: Empathy = Character’s motivations + reader understanding. That’s it. The whole deal. If a character really wants something, and the reader really gets why that thing matters so much to that character, then the reader is committed. They’ll feel intensely involved. They will, if they’re a literary agent, want to represent your novel. In terms of your character development challenge, that means you need to: Understand your character’s motivations deeplyMake sure your character really cares (because if they don’t, the reader won’t.)Make sure your character’s motivations come through in your writing. And that’s it. Simple, right? Dialogue: Characters In Relationship While we’re on the topic of building empathy, it’s also worth remembering that your character doesn’t exist in isolation – they’re at the centre of a particular web of relationships that will be tugging at them with complex and often contradictory forces. That’s quite likely tough for the character – but great for the reader. And dialogue is where you’ll feel those emotional pulls and pushes most forcefully and in their most alive possible way. Making sure that your dialogue is sinuous and mobile will give a real kick to your character – and add whole new layers to the process of acquiring and retaining the reader’s empathy. More dialogue help right here. That’s It: Character Development – Done! If you’ve done the work on developing your character arc, and you’ve explored your character in detail via our Ultimate Character Development Sheet, then you know what? You’ve completed your character development work. Yay! Truthfully, you’ll be ahead of at least 95% of the other writers out there. Well done you. If your plot is roughly in shape, then you’re good to start writing, and your first draft (though it won’t be perfect) should be a pretty damn good platform for your final, finished book. That said, once you have written (say) 10,000 words of your first draft – STOP. Just stop writing and review what you’ve written so far. Does your character feel like a fully rounded human? Or a cliche? Do you make plenty of reference (where appropriate) to your character’s thoughts, memories, feelings and physical sensations? Does the character feel fresh or stale? Individual, or just a standard character type? If your answers are yes, this character feels fresh and individual, then your work has paid off. You’ve created a great character – and your novel is well on its way to being a damn good one. Congratulations on finishing your book! Keen to improve the first draft and polish your manuscript, but not sure where to start? Get help from an experienced professional editor with our Manuscript Assessment Service. Members get 10% off! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Taking Emotional Possession Of Your Characters

Guest author and blogger Julia Hamilton is the author of six novels, most recently Forbidden Fruits and Other People’s Rules, both from HarperCollins. Before those, Julia published with Penguin (A Pillar of Society, The Good Catholic, and After Flora) and Collins / Flamingo (The Idle Hill of Summer). As an editor, I’ve recently read a couple of submissions where the author is writing about someone they knew, in one case a brave, soldier father, in another an interesting aunt. Our biographies are often submerged in our novels: the idea of a roman a clef was precisely this: thinly veiled characters whose identity could be guessed at by the reader. Many authors find this a useful device from Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, to Scott Fitzgerald in Tender is the Night or even Violet Trefusis in Broderie Anglaise. It’s not so much why authors write about their own families and people they know, it’s how they go about it. Do you stick to facts or do you muck about with them? My first novel was based on the life of a cousin of my great-grandfather’s, a soldier in the Great War who kept some (rather dull) war diaries that were published after his death in 1918 and are often quoted by military historians because of the pinpoint accuracy of his observations of the landscape and his obsession (very necessary) with the ranging of his guns as an artillery officer. But what interested me was what he was really thinking on the inside. I’d found draft diaries in one of those tin boxes with his name in white paint on the side and the top that hinted at a much more interesting interior life: he was a Catholic convert and obsessed by his religion, he had a tender but slightly tentative relationship with his wife and was enjoying the war enormously, although he writes about his suffering, too. Even more interesting was the fact that all the (to me) interesting bits had been scored out with blue pencil before they were published. Here was my subject, I felt. But this was my first novel, how the hell did I go about taking emotional possession of someone who had really existed? The facts of his life daunted me to start with: they seemed so final and definitive, how could I change them and what would I change them into? And not only that, but the detail of the Great War almost crushed me to death. It’s a huge subject about which I knew not very much. I mentioned what I was doing to someone (a great mistake, never mention tender subjects like this at a dinner party as you run the risk of exposing yourself to the highly contagious disease of doubt, rife amongst authors), and he said, ‘Oh, but hasn’t the First World War been done to death?’ Well, yes, it had. But not by me, I decided, after a bad day or two. I proceeded with my task. My hero, Gerard (his middle name, in fact), died in real life in 1918. Did that mean I had to somehow write about four whole years of the most written about war in history? After about a year, I realized that I could do whatever I liked. For fictional purposes, I killed him off sometime in early 1915, but I used the text of the real (and indescribably moving) letter written by the priest who buried him to his wife in the actual novel, a letter that afterwards appeared in The Faber Book of Letters, adding another twist to the whole roman a clef business. When the book was reviewed in the TLS, the reviewer knew of my character’s real identity and mentioned his quite famous war diaries in the review. So what was true and what wasn’t? By the end I couldn’t remember and quite frequently confused my own fiction with fact, so successful had I become at my task of ‘playing God’. In fact, immersing myself in the First World War changed my life for good. As a result, I took my then young children every Remembrance Sunday to the ravishingly beautiful service in Westminster Abbey, something they remember now with great intensity. We visit the real Gerard’s grave whenever we go that way through the haunted battlefields of the Somme, too – and I always weep. If you want to take emotional possession of your characters, let them take the same of you. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Diversity In Genre Fiction

When Is A Book ‘Not Asian Enough’? There’s been a lot of recent discussion about diversity in publishing. A lot of people lament the fact that there aren’t enough diverse characters in fiction and that there\'s little inclusive language in books. There is diversity in the people who live in the UK and diversity in the subsection of those people who write books, so why the mismatch? As part of this discussion someone brought up the fact that books with BAME protagonists are judged by a different set of criteria – one of which is is this book Asian enough/black enough? This question winds me up. What is the benchmark for a book being Asian enough? Who sets it? How often is it reviewed? What is the point of it? I write romance, arguably the biggest selling genre in fiction. I’m British/Sri Lankan. Asian is part of who I am. It’s not something I consciously work at. If you asked me to list the things that define me, my Sri Lankan background would not make it into the top five. As a kid, I lived in a regular house, went to a regular school, and read the same books, watched the same TV shows and listened to the chart show every week, just like the rest of my classmates. Of course, there was the odd Goodness Gracious Me moment, but mostly, my life wasn’t vastly different to my friends’. It wasn’t as though as soon as I shut the front door I was transported into another world of sari’s and spices. Yet, if you read mainstream fiction featuring Asian characters you’d think that was the case. No wonder everyone was so astounded that Nadiya Hussein chose to flavour her cheesecakes with fizzy pop on The Great British Bake Off(or that she even baked in the first place!). My first book featured middle class Sri Lankan characters. I wrote about people who were, basically, a bit like the Asian people I know. I submitted to agents and small publishers, I had a few notes back, a few requests for the full manuscript. ‘Asian Lit’ was popular at the time; White Teeth and Brick Lane were still riding high. The most useful feedback I got back was “I like it, but I don’t know where I’d place it”. It wasn’t Asian enough for literary fiction and not white enough for genre fiction. Being the pragmatic sort, I wrote the next book with white main characters. Given that I write about middle-class people, the things that worry white characters would be pretty much the same as the things that bother Asian characters – job security, sexism, bullying, the quest for love. Besides, people are people, regardless of what shade they are, and white characters have the same range of feelings as brown ones. I placed this book with a small publisher relatively easily. Why Diversity In Genre Fiction Is Important If you want fiction to represent the experiences of a wide range of people, you need accept those experiences as they are presented – even if they don’t fit into your preconceived notions. Rich people face different challenges to poor ones. First generation immigrants face different challenges to their children. No two Asian homes are the same, because no two families could be the same. So perhaps we should stop trying to pretend that they are. How can fiction show the reading public any variety in the Asian experience of life if the publishing industry insists that that very variety does not exist (or, more accurately, that the reading public won’t buy it)? ‘Diversity’ isn’t about showing Asian characters doing things in an Asian way, or gay characters doing things in a gay way or disabled characters doing things in a disability adapted way. That’s just pandering to stereotype. Diversity is achieved by showing characters of different backgrounds doing things in their own way and telling their unique stories. If it makes minority characters look less different than the majority expect them to be, that might even be a good thing. In case you hadn’t guessed, I write under a pen name since my real name is difficult to spell, and it helps to keep my writing career distinct from my day job – but I have always submitted my work to publishers and agents under my real name. I think (although I have no data to back this up) that the ‘is it Asian enough’ question arises not from racism as such, but from a skewed assumption of what readers can stomach. As a point of principle, I always have at least one Sri Lankan secondary character in each book. In my latest book (Please Release Me) the heroine is mixed race. I’m sneaking minority characters into mainstream genre fiction one book at a time. Interestingly, readers don’t seem bothered at all. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write Supporting Characters In Fiction

Guest author and blogger William Ryan is author of the Captain Korolev Novels, shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, the Ellis Peters and John Creasey Daggers and the Irish Crime Novel of the Year (twice). He teaches on the Crime Writing Masters at City University in London and shared with us this excerpt, expanded and adapted, from the book he co-wrote with M.R. Hall, Writing Crime Fiction, on writing great supporting characters. Whatever your genre, enjoy these words of wisdom. Who Is A Supporting Character? When you’re writing a mystery novel, or any novel for that matter, you need a protagonist who works for the novel. That means, in my view anyway, that they have to be intriguing enough that the reader wants to spend time in their company, that they are the character whose eyes this story must be told through and that they are the character who makes all the key decisions that take the story from the beginning to the end. Let’s presume you have just such a character, filled with multiple layers and tempting internal contradictions. Now you need to populate the rest of the novel. So you need some subsidiary characters. Subsidiary characters don’t have the same functions as the detective in a mystery novel – they don’t drive the story in the way that the central character does, although they may be key to how it progresses. In general, they exist for one of the following four purposes: To be the victim of a crime, either directly or indirectly.To prevent or obstruct the detective from solving a crime.To assist the detective in solving a crime.To tell us something about the detective or the setting. For example, a child may set out to mislead a detective by lying to them but actually end up assisting their investigation by inadvertently revealing a key piece of information. This unintentional assistance might result in the child’s murder, making them a victim, and the discovery of their body may reveal a more sensitive side to the detective’s personality that hasn’t been apparent until then. That character is earning their place on the page. There are always exceptions, of course, but if a secondary character doesn’t fulfil at least one of the four roles outlined above, you probably need to reconsider their inclusion. You may still have a valid reason for keeping them, but it’s probably a good idea to work out what it is. If the reason you come up with isn’t related to pushing the story forward then you may well want to kill them off. It’s seldom the case that a character gets a free ride in a good crime novel – they have to work for you, and for the central character, or they have to go. Aside from asking what their role in the novel is, it’s always a good initial question to ask of each of your secondary characters: ‘who do you appear to be, and who are you underneath?’ By hiding something about a character at the outset, you will, almost effortlessly, make them interesting and potentially surprising. Also, because you know that you’ll have to reveal the truth about them later on, you’ll begin to foreshadow that truth and, because you’re going to be straight with your reader, except when you’re misleading them, you’ll be circumspect about confirming the appearance the character maintains at the outset – and the reader will pick up on that. You will also need to understand why each of your subsidiary characters behaves the way they do in the novel. Even an insane serial killer will generally have a reason for their murder spree – no matter how bizarre it might be – and discovering the reason why a murder has been committed is often to discover the killer. Not every character in the novel is a murderer but that doesn’t mean their motivation shouldn’t be explored. If the detective’s spouse leaves them half way through the book then your readers will want to know why. Likewise the senior officer to whom a police detective reports may well have valid reasons for interfering in their investigation and trying to rein them in, and it will help if you, and the reader, understand their concerns. Often the motivation for the subsidiary character’s behaviour will have something to do with the central character. Conflict is, after all, going to help drive your plot forward. In Ian Rankin’s The Black Book, Rebus is in conflict, of one sort or another, with every one of the major subsidiary characters, and most of the minor ones as well. The more conflicts you can establish, the more challenges and obstacles your detective is likely to have to overcome. Sometimes the conflicts may be subtle – your detective may be attracted to another character that may, at least initially, not feel the same way about them. This relationship may be only a sub-plot in the novel, but it might tell the reader something of the detective’s character and, hopefully, make the reader warm to him or her. All of the central character’s conflicts with other characters will have a trajectory over the course of the novel and will, generally, be resolved by its end even if, with a series, only in an uneasy truce until the confrontation resumes in the next book. As with the central character, you are going to have to name your subsidiary characters, decide what they look like, where they’ve come from and fill in the details of their personality. With the more minor characters, you may not have to do this – a taxi driver who follows a suspect at the detective’s request isn’t going to have enough time allocated to them in the novel to allow for much more than the briefest of sketches. However, that said, the more time you spend thinking about a character, even if they only make the briefest of appearances, the more vivid they’ll be on the page. It’s a bit like the research you’re going to do for your novel – much of your work won’t make it onto the page. Instead it forms a hidden structure that gives the novel its authenticity. The reader believes in the world you’ve recreated for them, because you’ve done the research and speak with authority on everything you describe. It’s the same with characters – because you know all of this information about them, they acquire a depth on the page. Although there are no absolute rules about the number of secondary characters in a crime mystery, remember that the reader will struggle to get to know more than a dozen with any degree of intimacy (you can discount minor characters who appear for less than a page in coming to this number). Obviously each novel is different and some, by their very nature, will be more heavily populated than others but it’s generally a good idea to be wary of extended casts, especially when their role in the story might be easily combined into another character’s. This brief overview of how to write subsidiary characters has been set in the context of crime fiction, specifically the mystery novel, but it equally applies to most other genres and most literary fiction. If you think of the solution of the crime as being the objective of the detective, then the points discussed above relate to any novel where the protagonist has to overcome challenges, whether external or internal, and conflicts to achieve their objective. For example, romantic fiction tends to work exactly the same way – the lover’s objective, which they may not necessarily be aware of, is to find love in the arms of another character. Most of the other characters are going to either be rivals for the affection of one of the two characters, or exist to provide conflict, assistance or obstruction in relation to the final goal, or be in the novel to give insights into the character of the lover or the loved one. You can certainly include other characters, perhaps for humour or even tragedy, but making sure the characters justify their place in the novel, behave logically, have hidden depths and interact properly with the central character is going to make your novel stronger and, ultimately, better. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

The unreliable narrator: All you need to know

In this article we will break down all you need to know about the unreliable narrator. Contains spoilers! We’re going to figure out who the unreliable narrator is and how using one will impact your story. We’ll discuss the different types of unreliable narrators at your disposal, and how to choose which one is right for you. We’ll also dissect some real-life examples – what type of unreliable narrator was used and how did they impact the storyline? Above all: this is intended as a practical guide for writers wanting to explore one of the richest and most enjoyable writing approaches of them all. But first, the basics. A definition. Unreliable Narrator Definition What does unreliable narrator mean? An unreliable narrator can be defined as any narrator who misleads readers, either deliberately or unwittingly. Many are unreliable through circumstances, character flaws or psychological difficulties. In some cases, a narrator withholds key information from readers, or they may deliberately lie or misdirect.  While the term is fairly new – it was first used by literary critic Wayne C Booth in 1961 – unreliable narrator examples date back hundreds of years. Medieval poet and chronicler Geoffrey Chaucer used various unreliable narrators in The Canterbury Tales, for example the bragging and exaggerating Wife of Bath.  Some Shakespearean characters could also be described as unreliable. Could we trust Hamlet, in his grief and paranoia, to tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth?  In modern writing, unreliable narrators feature frequently in crime and thriller books, but the technique can be used to withhold information and surprise readers of any genre, as the many thousands of readers who enjoyed romantic suspense The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh can testify.  An unreliable narrator usually tells the story in first person, but there are notable exceptions to this such as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None which uses limited third person. The world’s bestselling mystery novel uses an unknown narrator who shows us the numerous points of view of the potential killers (and victims) trapped on an island.  Is An Unreliable Narrator Right For Your Story? What Is The Effect Of An Unreliable Narrator?  The unreliable narrator in literature, if written well, will cause the reader to experience the delight of a shocking twist or a dawning realisation that they have been misled.  When readers have been told a story from a specific point of view, we cannot help but side with the storyteller, even when they are doing dubious things or making bad decisions. This can make for complex and conflicted feelings when readers realise they have been double-crossed by someone they trusted.  If readers feel that they have been outright lied to with no possible way to sniff out the truth though, the effect can be negative. For this reason, it’s essential to balance the mistruths with some careful foreshadowing and stitching in of ‘clues’ so that when readers look back and think about the story after the reveal, they feel satisfied and impressed rather than frustrated.  What Is A Reliable And Unreliable Narrator?  A reliable narrator is the antithesis of an unreliable narrator. The reliable narrator tells readers all the pertinent information they need to know, albeit from their own point of view, and they do so as accurately as possible and in good faith.  An unreliable narrator also tells a story from their own point of view but the information they share is designed to mislead readers or obscure the truth.    In locked room mysteries, where any one in a group of people could be responsible for a crime or misdemeanour, authors can tell the story from all their points of view so a reader has to try to work out which of the narrators is unreliable and which is reliable. Sometimes, of course, there can be more than one unreliable fly in the ointment. Agatha Christie was a master of such a technique.  Why Is The Unreliable Narrator Right For Your Story?  An unreliable narrator can perform ‘sleight of hand’ by hiding clues and prompting readers to look in the wrong direction. For example, they may build up a picture of another character’s behaviour that makes you believe they are guilty of something. This is especially useful in crime and thriller writing but it can work well in any story that requires suspense and surprise.  An unreliable narrator, when he or she is one of several points of view telling the story or alone, can – to put it bluntly – mess with a reader’s mind. They can make a reader mistrust other narrators or characters or second guess their own understanding of events.  As with any literary device, it is important to think about how your use of the technique will improve your story. Would using an unreliable narrator allow you to fit an intricate plot together more effectively? Would it help to showcase a complex character? Would it drive the story along in a way that a truthful narrator telling the story would not achieve? Will it add that ‘cherry on the cake’ that is currently missing from your work in progress?  Unreliable narrators can be incredibly fun to write, but it’s important that you knowwhy you’re writing them.  Types Of Unreliable Narrators There is an argument that any first–person narrator who does not have an omniscient view of all events, is unreliable. They can only share their personal experiences and those that they have been told, they have filtered everything through their own experiences and beliefs, and even if they are not ‘baddies’ they will have their own motivations and desires which can’t help but effect their reading of events. All of which is true.  Where I believe a narrator becomes unreliable, is where their take on the situation and the way they tell their story to readers, creates in the reader’s mind a significant gap between what they’re led to believe happened, and the truth.  The Deliberately Unreliable Narrator  Those who lie, obscure and otherwise deliberately mislead. A deliberately unreliable narrator is often – but not always – a ‘baddie’. But even if someone has been deceitful for wicked reasons, their actions should still be believable. No-one is just plain evil for no reason, so make sure that even the most cruel and manipulative liars have a motive for their behaviour – even if it’s a screwed–up motive!  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn contains one of the most famous unreliable narrators of the last decade: Amy Dunne. We first get to know Amy through her diary entries which lead up to her kidnap. At the midpoint twist, we find out that Amy is not only alive but has been meticulously writing a retrospective diary to frame her husband for her murder. The plot is complex, with multiple twists and reveals, but the basic idea of a narrator creating his or her own cover story through a diary is actually a very neat and rather simple one.  The other main character, Amy’s husband Nick, is also a deliberately unreliable narrator which makes for a very twisty book. In his case, Nick tries to paint the best picture of himself by keeping his infidelity from the reader, which is a very tame form of manipulation compared with his wife’s character.  You can find out more on how to create your own bad guy, here. The Impaired Narrator  Alcohol is an oft-used tool for enabling narrators to have holes in their story and misremembrances. Alcoholic Rachel from Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins is a prime example of this. Rachel is woven deeply into the other characters’ lives, but has memory blanks over key events. In some ways, she is openly unreliable – she doesn’t hide her drinking or her struggle to remember events from the reader – and the reader is invited to join her as she tries to uncover the crucial moments that she has forgotten.  Drug use in a narrator would also fit this role, but drinking alcohol is a more universally understood experience so it’s arguably easier for readers to both empathise and imagine themselves in the narrator’s role.  The Psychologically Unreliable Narrator  What is sometimes, rather unkindly, called the ‘madman narrator’. Patrick Bateman from Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is one such ‘mad man’ who tells a shocking tale of murder and mayhem… until it’s revealed that one of his supposed victims is still alive.   In modern books, psychological unreliability often takes the form of a narrator whose psychological issues or traumas have jumbled up their memories or made it hard for them to understand the circumstances and events in which they have found themselves.  If you would like to use a psychologically unreliable narrator, it’s essential to give them nuance and characteristics outside of their ‘issues’ or readers may balk at the use of trauma or illness to simply drive plot or mislead. Every character deserves to be well-rounded.  The Unaware Narrator  Those who are passing on information that they have been told by another unreliable character. Sometimes this is due to blindly trusting those around them, sometimes it can be due to memory or other issues which make them rely on someone else’s events.  The main character in the brilliant Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson has a rare condition that makes her forget everything that has happened that day, waking up each morning with no recollection of who she is or where she is. She only knows what those around her tell her, and what information she finds that she has left for herself on previous days.  The Naïve Narrator  The naïve narrator is a little like the unaware narrator but does not have the maturity of thought to understand the events they are describing. Child characters can be used to simplify an adult situation or express a naïve take on events. For example, Pi, the eponymous character in The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, who tells a tale of survival that is both entirely unbelievable and extremely moving.  Teenager Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is unreliable through his youthful inexperience, which lead him to misunderstand the situations in which he finds himself. Although he is naïve, he is also an angry and rebellious teenager and it is through this lens that Caulfield views the world and interprets it.  The wonderful Notes on a Scandalby Zoe Heller contains an adult character – Barbara – whose own moral code, inexperience and loneliness make for a naïve and skewed reading of events. As readers, we begin to understand what is really happening even when she doesn’t, which is both thrilling and devastating to watch.  Tricks To Creating Unreliable Narrators As with writing twists, my approach to unreliable narrators is to write them as if they’re entirely honest, as if I – the writer – completely believe the story they are telling. I try to forget that some of what they’re saying is untrue and write it as if it’s gospel. Writing my second book, Don’t Close Your Eyes, which includes an unreliable narrator, I wrote the story as if all characters were telling the truth. Then, when I had completed the first draft, I went through carefully and changed some of those details to lies.  An unreliable narrator has maximum impact if the reader has truly bought into their story and believed them, right up until the moment where it is revealed that they are untrustworthy. To help foster your readers’ trust, keep as many details accurate as possible. If the narrator is a frequent, outright liar from the start of the novel, readers will not put any stock in their story. Whereas if we see them telling the truth, possibly even going out of their way to be honest to a fault, it will be all the more shocking when we realise that we’ve been well and truly had.  So, there we have it, the unreliable narrator. What did you think? Have we missed anything? Anything else you’d like to add? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know your thoughts.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Character motivation: All you need to know

You may be asking yourself \'what does character motivation mean, and why do I need it?\' Well, this article will answer all your burning questions, and help you in developing your own well-rounded and interesting characters. What Is Character Motivation? Character motivation and plot are very tightly linked. They are the Little and Large of writing fiction. A strong character will have a clear motivation, which will generate the plot. In J R R Tolkien’s fantasy novel Lord of the Rings, the hobbit Frodo needs to destroy the Ring of Power to save Middle Earth. In Daphne du Maurier’s psychological thriller Don’t Look Now, a husband needs to protect his family from what he considers are sinister forces. Ideally speaking, the character’s development will be linked very closely to the points in the plot: each stage will have an effect on the character; but motivation will always push the character towards achieving a goal.    So, what is character motivation in literature and how does it effect the reader experience? Motivation is the force which pulls the reader through the story, as it creates a sense of empathy with the character. If a character’s motives are unclear or repellent, then it can cause the reader confusion or unease. And we don’t want that. Writing fiction is in part about trying to make sense of the world around us, which means trying to understand ourselves. Is A Character’s Motivation The Same As A Goal? A character’s goal is ultimately the end result of the motivation. Think of a footballer: his goal is to win a match; his motivation is more complex, linked to ambition and to the pride in his team and to his financial success. So, what are character motivations and how to they link to their goal? Frodo’s final goal is the destruction of the ring; his motivation is to save Middle Earth. In Don’t Look Now, the goals change: initially, the protagonist, John, wants to protect his wife from what the narrator believes are sinister forces, which means that his specific goal is to remove her from their influence. Then it’s to find his wife; then it’s to reach home. But his motivation is always to make sure that his family are safe. How Does A Character’s Motivation Affect A Story’s Plot? A character’s motivation will be the major plot driver. In Homer’s Iliad, the motivation of Achilles is his anger at being dishonoured by King Agamemnon. This means that he withdraws from fighting the Trojans, which means that the Greek forces are routed. When his best friend, Patroclus, is killed, Achilles is then motivated to take revenge on the Trojans, and thus fights and kills Hector.  Motivation is important. Without it characters are limp and lifeless. Too often I see characters that are wetter than the wettest blanket. They are flat, and events happen to them, and they let things carry them along without questioning or thinking. A character must have life, and motivation is partly what brings it. It’s the electricity pouring into the assembled body parts of your creation. You are Victor Frankenstein: your character needs to be galvanised into life! Should Readers Relate? This is an eternal question: and the answer is, not necessarily. The general consensus is that a character must create empathy: that doesn’t necessarily mean sympathy. Our protagonists do not have to be saints: too much of that, and your reader will fling the book aside in disbelief. But on the other hand, if they are too cruel or unhinged, then the reader can be disgusted.  An excellent example of an artful, successful and complex character is Humbert Humbert, the hero of Nabokov’s Lolita: he’s a murderous child molestor. His voice is exceptionally compelling: but we do not need to like him. The key is to create characters that aren’t cliches. So we are instead fascinated by his language and his style, seduced by him as much as we are revolted by his desires.  (If you want to know more about writing villains, then read this.) How Do You Determine A Character’s Motivation? A character’s determination is determined by what he or she wants. When you’re writing, you will develop your own process, but it’s a good idea to begin with your setting. A setting will produce a character: a general on a spaceship hurtling towards unknown planets will want very different things from a housewife on a farm in Wyoming.  It’s a good idea to test your characters. Put them into normal situations and see what they do; then introduce an element of surprise. How does your character react? That will help you to understand what motivates them. Need and necessity are two very powerful things that produce the friction and the energy for a good story. Powerful motivations include a desire to survive; to save or to protect, or to change things for the good.  You then need to decide what your character’s goal is in relation to the plot. This is very much determined by genre: the rational motivation of a detective is to find the murderer, so his goals will be step by step movements to uncover evidence against him; the motivation of Humbert Humbert is to avoid detection and to seduce Lolita, so his goals change as he travels across America. The former is a rational motivation; the latter is more conflicting and complicated.  How Do You Write A Powerful Character? There are many techniques to develop a powerful character, and as you continue to write, you will find that you will hone your own. Different things work for different people. Some writers like to create little biographies or dossiers for each character, detailing every aspect of their life from cheese preference to first sexual encounter to number of moles on their cheek. Others prefer to go with the flow and allow the story to shape the characters.  Whichever way you choose, a character must have fully formed motivation. Ged, in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, is motivated to find a dark shadow that he himself has released; as it’s also a part of himself, the novel becomes an exploration of psychology and a movement towards a mending of a fractured psyche.  In a T C Boyle short story, The Lie, two middle class American teenagers fall in love; the girl becomes pregnant. The lovers don’t want the baby to disrupt their young lives; and so, they fall into a pattern of deception that has a tragic, terrifying consequence. Their motivation is to get through college and become successful adults; but their goal is to do so by hiding a pregnancy. And thus the complexities of character are born: we empathise with them, but we are horrified by their actions.  When all else fails, put your character in a pub, and see what he or she does. Do they go to the bar and ask for a drink? Or do they sit by the side, nervously scanning the room for a friend? You can then draw out the more general motivation. And maybe treat yourself to a glass of wine as well. Your motivation: relaxation; your goal: finish the wine. So, there we have it, a full breakdown of character motivations. Have we missed anything? Anything else you’d like to add? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know what you think.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

Creating Sympathetic Characters

Guest author and blogger William Kowalski shares his insights into creating sympathetic characters that resonate on the page. Sympathetic Character Development Language is a living, organic thing, and words have a habit of shifting meaning over time. This is precisely what has happened with the word sympathy. Like ouzo and democracy, sympathy comes to us from the Greeks. It’s derived from pathos, meaning “feeling”, and together with its prefix, which in English becomes “sym”, it once meant to feel along with someone, or to join a community of feeling. We have not completely lost this sense of it, but our understanding of sympathy has narrowed until it’s come to mean feeling sorry for someone, or commiserating with them. As we writers develop our characters, we would do well to spend some time pondering the original, deeper meaning of the word. Sympathetic Vs Unsympathetic Characters Why are sympathetic characters so important? Because unless your readers have some kind of emotional investment in their outcome, they won’t care what happens to them. They will become antipathetic. As a writing mentor, I must often explain that a sympathetic character isn’t just one we feel sorry for. It’s someone in whose struggle readers have become wrapped up, the more completely the better. We feel the same range of emotion he feels. We have joined her community of feeling. We do this because we believe this character is a real, flesh-and-blood person, if the author has done his job properly. What happens to her happens to us. It’s a skilled illusion, so how do we pull it off? The answer lies in the all-important practice of strong character development. Importance Of Making Characters Believable In Poetics, Aristotle tells us that characters must be “good” (she must possess some redeeming quality); “appropriate” (her qualities must make sense, based on her identity); “believable” (we have to believe that such a person could exist); and “consistent” (her character, while mutable, should also follow a pattern throughout the course of a story). I go into more detail on Aristotle’s contributions to our storytelling culture in an article available for free on my website, called “Writing Secrets of the Ancient Greeks.” But these are not the only considerations. If a character is to be sympathetic, he must be in pursuit of something. In his rules for writing, Kurt Vonnegut said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” In fact, the simpler your character’s goal, at least at the outset of the story, the better. As we watch him go off in pursuit of that thing, we will naturally sympathise with his struggle. All these rules can confound us if we try to follow them to the letter as we write. The best practice for me has been to revisit them periodically, in order to remember the basics. In this way, they become implanted, and eventually become second nature. Remember that we don’t have to like everything about a character. A flawed and imperfect nature makes him even more sympathetic, because we’re not perfect, either. We have a much easier time relating to an empathetic character who screws up from time to time than to someone who always gets it right on the first try. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write Characters (Not Clichés)

Characters are what bring life and energy to your plot. You may have rich, compelling material for a dramatic story, but if we’re not interested in spending time with your protagonist, if we aren\'t invested in their journey and growth, then even the most exciting plot in the world will be in danger of ringing hollow. It’s critical to a story’s success that your characters be captivating enough to linger long after the last page. It\'s also critical that the action of the story be \'character-driven\' -- and for that to happen, your characters must have depth and autonomy.  Before you dismiss character profiling as a waste of time, or if you\'re thinking that you can wait til later because you want to get on with plotting, try reading this article first. Then, before you get going on the writing, create character profiles for your protagonist, antagonist, their sidekicks and best friends, and any other significant characters you sense need it. You\'ll be glad you did. Understanding Your Characters In Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters, Michael Tierno has written: The function of the poet [i.e. the writer] is not to say what has happened, but to say the kind of thing that would happen, i.e. what is possible in accordance with probability or necessity. Basically, you aren\'t here to dictate events -- you\'re here to write down things \'as they happen.\' Maybe that feels a little strange to say, considering that you\'re the one with the pen making these things up... but the trick is to create characters whose motivations and actions all make sense. They have to act logically within the story they\'re in, otherwise the whole thing will fall apart. Famous authors have spoken of characters taking on a life of their own, wanting to do something their plotlines hadn’t accommodated, because they have taken on life in their imagination (we assume for the better, because it’s typically characters we fall in love with, not events). How do you start to understand characters as human, though, not as chess pieces? You’ll need to know them as well as possible. You’ll need to be able to answer as many questions about your character as you can, when you begin to build a character profile. We’ve a few reasons why any conscientious writer shouldn’t skimp on this. Archetypes Vs. Stereotypes How do you build characters that are human, avoiding caricature or stereotype? It\'s perfectly fine to root your characters in a classic model -- the Reluctant Hero, the Clown, the Lover -- because we instinctively understand these stories. There\'s a reason that the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck are models of archetypes: we can see ourselves and our journeys in them quite easily! The danger comes from relying too much on cliché, or an idea of how certain people should act or be. Thriller author Christopher Rice has shared the female stock characters of police procedurals he’s desperate to avoid, like the nagging wife, the ‘ice-queen bureaucrat’ or the ‘babe-assassin’ (‘on the surface she seems like an attempt at gender equality … [but] if we never get a real explanation for who she is, how she got that way, she just ends up being a cardboard character’). Fantasy writer Samantha Shannon (who created a criminal heroine with depth, in Paige Mahoney of The Bone Season) has also argued the case for complexity: Complicated women are still treated like they’re a curiosity. … We don’t keep marvelling at “strong male characters”. Male characters can fall into a version of this trap, too, if they\'re rendered as handsome romantic caricatures or burly, brusque brawlers rather than real people. So how can you avoid these things and write your characters with sensitivity and feeling? Firstly, by drawing out of your own well of human emotions and experiences. Russian director Constantin Stanislavski developed training methods still used by actors today. In his book Building a Character, he offers guidance to actors (applicable to writers) who seek to ‘build’ characters out of stereotypical ideas or images, rather than from their own bank of emotional experiences. Stanislavski shares examples of cliché in Building a Character: A professional soldier … holds himself stiffly, marches around … speaks in a loud, barking tone out of habit. … A peasant spits … wipes his mouth of the tail of his sheepskin coat. An aristocrat always carries a top hat … his speech is affected. … These are … clichés. They are taken from life. … But they do not contain the essence of [a] character. Writer Scarlett Thomas, examining Stanislavski’s writing, builds on his musings in Monkeys with Typewriters: We could equally say that the chav wears a hoody and trainers and carries a can of lager … the geek has pale skin and acne and glasses. … Stanislavski’s work represents a profound rejection of cliché, stereotype and commonplace assumptions. … Stanislavski also teaches us to look for the motivation behind the action. … Begin with the character’s desire and build up from there, otherwise characterisation will be patronising. Following this, Scarlett Thomas encourages writers to uncover what Stanislavski calls a ‘super-objective’ in characters: Examples of super-objectives are ‘I wish to be comfortable’, ‘I wish to be perfect’, ‘I wish to be in control’, ‘I wish to be loved’, ‘I wish to be a success’. … With one wish, what would your character want? During her novel The End of Mr Y, for instance, Scarlett Thomas has protagonist Ariel Manto admit her ‘wish’ to another character: she wants to know everything. This filters down into Ariel’s less significant actions, too (rendering everything significant, after all). ‘I wish to know everything’ as a super-objective accounts for Ariel buying a rare, cursed book with all the money she has left to live on (not caring that she now won’t be able to eat). Your own character needn’t be conscious of a ‘super-objective’, an overarching character motivation – and it’s better if they’re not, perhaps. We as human beings typically aren’t aware, either. We may be aware of various major goals and needs, compelling us to act. As a writer, though, you’ll need to be conscious yourself. Why does your character want something? Maybe they want money, but is this because they want to be wildly successful, to show off? Or is this because they’re poor and just want to be comfortable? Your character’s specific longings and actions should feed back into one vague but dominant, all-encompassing wish. Know the nature of that wish, and why it’s there. It’s your character’s emotional heart and heartbeat. Consider your character’s background, too, their day-to-day life now and in times past. How does this feed into desire, into their nature? In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, for instance, the Mirror of Erised illustrates Stanislavski’s principles when Albus Dumbledore points out to Harry that harried, teased Ron Weasley sees himself distinguished, without his brothers and family, the best of them all. Isolated Harry, who’s lived in a cupboard for ten years, sees himself in the mirror with a loving, but lost, family. Such longings aren’t viewed in the mirror by accident. Start with your character’s desire and let this help you map out their inner nature. You’ll then be on the path to creating characters with depth, who are fully human. Avoid Common Clichés You’ll probably have encountered ‘stock’ characters or cliché characters before. The glasses-wearing nerd, the mustache-twirling villain, the damsel-in-distress who can\'t do a damn thing for herself... no human being you\'ve ever met fits so neatly into such simplistic boxes! Adding in ‘rogue’ elements to subvert clichés like this is one way of initially working against your own subconscious biases in writing characters. Fiona Griffiths, in Harry Bingham’s thriller Talking to the Dead, is a gifted, morose protagonist recovering from Cotard’s Syndrome, but this isn’t incidental. She puts herself in hazardous situations in her empathy and determination to uncover victims’ stories. In Robert Galbraith’s crime series, opening with The Cuckoo’s Calling, protagonist Cormoran Strike is an army veteran turned private detective. Strike never ‘marches’, never speaks ‘in a loud, barking tone’, as per Stanislavski’s cliché. Strike is reserved, brusque but often uncertain, and has a prosthetic limb after losing part of his leg in Afghanistan (occasionally affecting his mobility). Strike’s prosthetic limb isn’t just incidental, either. It is indicative of his past trauma, his identification with sufferers of violence, and motive for the work he does. It’s not illogical to guess past trauma feeds into Strike’s emotional reticence with on- and off-partner Charlotte (who soon marries someone else), later with deuteragonist and new romantic interest Robin, at first. All of these are examples of ways to add subversive, original elements to your characters -- without them being incidental or irrelevant to the story you\'re trying to tell, or without hijacking them and turning the story on its head in a way that feels random. Circles And Starts Should characterisation really come first in novel-plotting? Or is it the plotting itself? It\'s a little bit like asking about the chicken or the egg (although of course we all know the answer to that one...) -- because inspiration can come from anywhere! Start where your imagination wants to start, but know this: characters must ultimately drive a plot, propel it forward. If your characters don’t act in ways that are plausible (as Aristotle indicated all those years ago), your plot is in terrible danger of falling apart -- and once your reader questions a character in this sense, your narrative spell is broken. Things also become less interesting when characters aren’t decidedly at the heart of storytelling. Let’s take romance as a genre or a device in fiction (i.e. as plot or subplot) to explore that idea. Writers continue to visit and revisit romance in stories, because it resonates with us all, often transcending genre. It is the characters, though, that elevate romance as formula out of the mechanical, making a story human. Taking two classics with potential – a spirited heroine challenges her moralising hero, a selfless heroine solaces her heartbroken hero – most readers care if a certain Miss Bennet marries in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, fewer (generally) care if a certain Miss Price marries in Jane Austen’s previous novel, Mansfield Park. In Pride and Prejudice, a relationship develops in action and conversation, with resulting character growth in the span of the action. Lizzy and Darcy retain strength of character, yet soften and mature as they listen, learn from and fall in love with the other. In Mansfield Park, nothing much prompts heroine or hero to grow. We’re told, not shown, how love turns from fraternal to romantic in just a couple of passages at the novel’s end. As a result, it’s a bit harder to connect with this story. As fictional characters, the point is that Jane Austen’s characters were never just in want of a spouse but they underwent an emotional journey, and this is what makes readers connect and care. As such, a story doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘correct’, nor do protagonists need to do ‘good’ things for us to love reading about them. Your story just needs to resonate with readers – and that begins with your characters being human, or at least operating in a way that your human readers will recognize. They might be six-tentacled aliens on a planet orbiting Betelgeuse, or anti-heroes like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho -- but even the most inhuman or unlikeable characters can all astound us and move us, because we see some glimmer of our own humanity in each of them. What’s key to your storytelling is, and always will be, emotional connection. Where To Start It makes narrative and dramatic sense to create fully rounded human characters who will face story challenges, who will make active choices, and who will reflect and change as readers spend time with them. Ponder this as you start planning. If you’re wondering where to start with characters, make a list of questions for them to build a personality profile. Ideas might be: Where was your character’s childhood spent?What was your character’s favourite place as a child? Where did they feel most joy?What made your character feel safe?What subjects did your character love at school?What books did they love to read? What were their hobbies?What was their worst accident as a child? What lesson did they take from it?What would their Myers-Briggs personality be?What’s their reason to live, their all-encompassing drive? Let some of these ideas get you started. Just be sure you’ll know their innermost depths, the life-wish that drives them, too – since these will propel your plot, too. If you want to create a more in-depth character profile, try our free Jericho Writers Character Building Worksheet. Enjoy your character-building and happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Makes A Good Villain- Build Your Own Bad Guy

Ever wondered what makes a great villain? Well, guest author C M Taylor has given you all you need to build your own bad guy in this blog post. In this blog, C M Taylor takes inspiration from some of the greatest fictional villains of all time to help you create a villain of your own - a dazzling and multi-dimensional bad guy.  What Is A Villain? The term ‘villain’ defines a character who personifies the forces which thwart the progress of the main character. Now, while it is feasible that the villain is the main character – and we will come on to that less usual and more nuanced situation later on – in the vast majority of cases, the villain is villainous in relation to opposing the needs and desires of the main character. This structural role of antagonising the main character is the reason the villain is often described as the antagonist. They are a character who stands in negative relation to the spiritual, emotional, moral or financial progress of the main character, a character who is often described as the protagonist. How To Write A Memorable Villain: Let your theme influence their traitsUse their backstory to show why they’re like thisHumanise your villain. Show why they became corruptedMemorable injuries are clichés. AvoidTo compete with the protagonist, your villain also needs to be specialYour villain should feel unbeatable, at least for a while Why Do Villains Matter To Fiction? Answering this involves taking this question right back to ask ourselves: what is a story? The crux of a story is concerned with how the main character changes, or fails to change, over time, in contact with internal, external and relationship pressures. A story is a map of this change over time, or this failure to change over time. The change is both an internal, emotional journey and an external, physical journey. Now if the journey comes easily, then there will be no drama, because drama requires struggle. The journey which the protagonist goes on needs to be ripe with struggle – with obstacles, tests, high stakes. The most common and identifiable way to manifest struggle is to have it between people. Between the antagonist (or villain) and the protagonist (or heroic character). It is the antagonist who provides the obstacles standing in the way of the protagonist’s need to consummate their change. It is the test of wills between the antagonist and the protagonist that generates the struggle. On a very simple level, in terms of the mechanics of plot, it is the villain who sets the test and the heroic character who sits the test. It is the villain whose actions provoke the need for the hero to act. Batman without The Joker would have no need to act. The villain is a dark twin to the hero. The villain embodies the shadow qualities of the hero. The villain is what the hero might have been, what the hero might be, should they make the wrong choices, which is what gives rise to the clichéd piece of film dialogue, ‘We are not so different you and I, Mr Bond.’ If the heroic character struggles to embody the positive possibilities in a work of fiction, the villain convincingly embodies the negative aspects. The villain personifies the specific forces of antagonism which aim to prevent the protagonist from completing their internal and external journey. Does Every Story Need A Villain? The short answer to this question is no – in terms of the villain being a physical personification of antagonism, not every story has or needs this. A story needs antagonism, yes, and most usually this antagonism takes the form of a human being standing in opposition to the progress of the heroic character, but it is not necessary to do this. Antagonism can be generated in other variations than the single, embodied villain. The antagonism might be within the heroic character themselves. It might be a mistaken belief about life which leads them astray or into repeated unhealthy actions; or it might be an addiction. Note that choosing to centre the antagonistic force internal to the main character influences what type of story you are telling. It would be hard to make this choice and write an action story, for example. The choice to situate the main antagonistic force internally, as an aspect of the heroic character, is more associated with character-led stories – literary or dramatic works, or sometimes the psychological thriller. Whereas the more traditional human villain personification of antagonistic force is more usual within crime or fantasy or action stories. There are other forms of antagonism too. It might be centred around a group of people. It might be the family that a young person needs to escape to ‘become’ whole. Or it might be the pain still felt when a parent abandoned a child. Or it might be a best friend who continually leads the main character into activities which are against their best interests. Basically, antagonistic forces can be anything as long as they are the main obstacle in the way of the protagonist achieving what they most need. Traditionally this force has been embodied via the personification of a villain, but the villainous function can be performed within a story by other forces. How To Create A Memorable Villain: A Checklist Thematically A writer can usefully begin their creation of a villain via an understanding of theme. Are you writing about loyalty, for example? In which case, your protagonist has issues with loyalty which they must overcome, via the obstacles of the plot, to achieve a healthy, positive attitude to loyalty. Hence the role of the villain is to embody and prosecute a version of loyalty which is negative but tempting, which is corrupt but seductive, which might derail the heroic character’s attempt to achieve a healthy version of the theme. It is the villain’s job to oppose the progress of the hero, and so, knowing the specific thematic nature of the progress which the hero must make, that necessarily takes you some way to defining the nature of your villain. Your villain must be suitable and specifically adept at preventing the thematic success of your hero, hence must embody a negative version of that theme. Via Backstory So, once you have understood your theme and decided which negative version of the theme is embodied by your villain, you next ask yourself why they are like this. For an example, let’s stick with the theme of loyalty. Your villain might espouse a version of loyalty which states you must have only loyalty to yourself, or loyalty to chaos, or loyalty to crime, or loyalty to the dead. Any unhealthy version of the theme will do. Let’s pick they have loyalty to chaos and want to bring disorder and anarchy to the whole world. Why are they like this? Their parents were unbelievably controlling and up-tight and rational and crushed the villain with their excessive punctiliousness maybe. Or the villain and their brother were in some youth cadet force which was all about order and discipline and the brother died in an accident born of excessive following of the rules. You see, once you have your thematic relation, you move to explain it via the backstory. (Want to explore this more? Then check out this article on character motivation.) Good-Turned-Bad Our thematically-driven excavation and development of the villain’s backstory allows us to take an emotionally logical approach and explain why the villain is like they are. Continuing with our theme of loyalty, our rule-following cadet was eager and good to start with, tragic events having turned them on to a negative chaotic version of loyalty. Or our young child started off good but was hounded by neurotically rule-bound parents to crave the release of chaos. If you show the reader that it is emotionally logical for the villain to have passed from a state of health to their current corrupted self as a consequence of events, you humanise the villain. You make the reader think that they themselves might plausibly have reacted the same way in the same circumstances. You give the villain an emotional plausibility and a gravitas. And a decent villain needs gravitas, needs the emotional plausibility and heft to pull the villain into their version of the theme, into their version of reality. A good villain is like a moral centrifuge. What they pull towards them and put in peril is the hero’s self, their morality, the hero’s version of the theme. Showing it was entirely reasonable for the villain to arrive at the moral place they are in shows that the hero might arrive their too, and so puts a huge amount of jeopardy in play for the hero. Memorable Injury The clichéd villain is often physically disfigured, right? There being a suggestion of a relationship between moral and physical disfigurement. I would however caution against this simple equation, quite apart from it perpetuating discrimination against people who are unfortunate enough to be physically disfigured, it has been done to death. Why not mix it up? The hero is trying to overcome prejudice against their physical disfigurement while the gorgeous villain is prone to the ravages of narcissism. Alarming Gifts Your protagonist has to be special. In some genres like fantasy or science fiction they can be ‘the one’ level of special. In genres such as crime or thriller they can ‘exceptional human being’ levels of special. In genres such as romance or realism, they can ‘normal person pushed to the edge behaves heroically’ levels of special. And if your protagonist is special well, given that it is the job of the villain to oppose the protagonist, then in order to seem anything like able to compete with the hero, the villain needs to be special too. The Unbeatable Villain Every villain needs to seem unbeatable to start with. The obstacles they place in the way of the protagonist must seem insurmountable. If the hero can beat the villain at the beginning, then there are no struggles needed. It is the insurmountable villain that causes the hero to develop and grow. It may be that your story is a tragic and the hero fails to beat the villain in the end. However it ends, in the beginning there must be no way that the hero – in their current state – can compete. How To Create A Likeable Villain As I write above, the villain stands or falls on the plausibility of their world view – the villain is the hero in their own eyes. If you can show why the villain has ventured from the path of moral health to become the creature they are today then you have created the route by which the reader can empathise with the villain. And if they can empathise then – in the current parlance – they can possess relatability. All the best characters are layered, multidimensional and above all, unique. So, if your bad guy can have some redeeming qualities, or a journey that the reader can connect with, then that could definitely make for an interesting read. What If Your Protagonist Is A Villain? Your protagonist can be both hero and villain – look at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Or your protagonist can be a criminal – look at The Godfather, at Breaking Bad, at The Sopranos, at Crime and Punishment. Or your protagonist can be an anti-hero – look at Mr Robot.  They can be any of those things. As long as they are subject to thematically congruent antagonistic forces, the rules are the same. As long as we know why they are like they are – In The Godfather, Michael Corleone gets pulled back into the family business of murder and extortion through love of his threatened father. Walter White sells meth – initially at least – to protect his ill family in Breaking Bad. Elliot from Mr Robot illegally hacks computers to out greater criminals. This is a common strategy – outflanking your villains with even greater villains to make your villain comparatively empathetic. Look at Dexter. Yes, he is a serial killer, but he only kills people who are themselves worse than him. He performs bad acts for a comprehensible and relatable reason. Inspirational Bad Guys: 12 Great Examples Tricking Othello into murdering his own wife makes Iago a pretty good start to our collection. Another trickster, in Treasure Island, Long John Silver tricks Jim Hawkins, disguising his own role as leader of the mutiny. Why do we care for and want the sociopathic murder Tom Ripley to escape throughout Patricia Highsmith’s Mr Ripley novels? Because he feels love and we feel his vulnerability and inadequacy. And why do we admire Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ novels? Because he is brilliant and stylish and logical. Only somebody as prodigiously gifted as Moriarty could aspire to being a villain worthy of Sherlock Holmes special powers. Anne Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery turns out to the fan no writer wants. Xan may seem like the villain in P D James’ The Children of Men but isn’t the broader antagonistic force that of infertility itself. No mistaking that it’s a shark who is the villain of Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws. Isn’t narcissism the antagonistic force in play in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey? Are dinosaurs the antagonistic force of Jurassic Park? Rather I would say it was the human vanity and over-reaching that lead to the recreation of dinosaurs in the first place. Same with Dr Frankenstein – it’s the Dr not the monster who sets the test. Isn’t the entire Republic of Gilead the antagonist force in The Handmaid’s Tale? So, there we have it, a foolproof method to build your very own bad guy. Have we missed anything? Anything else you’d like to add? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know what you think.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Character Development – And The Ultimate Character Bio

In this article you will learn: How to write great characters in your novelHow to make them lifelikeHow to make them dazzle Why Are Characters So Important? What makes a reader glued to a book? What makes that person come back to it again and again? As a rough guide, people turn the pages because of plot, but they remember a book because of character. Don’t believe us? Then answer this. Can you recall, in detail, the plots of: To Kill a Mockingbird?The Hound of the Baskervilles?The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? We’re going to bet not. But do you remember Scout and Atticus? Holmes and Watson? And the badass Lisbeth Salander? Of course you do. And that’s the aim of this post: helping you achieve the same level of vibrating life that these characters achieved. In effect, we’re going to tell you how to develop a character that can be used for both the protagonist (hero) and the antagonist (bad guy). How to write the kind of characters that will elevate your novel to a whole different plane. And it’s not magic. It’s just the logical application of tried-and-trusted writing techniques. But let’s start by figuring out what character development is, and how it works for you. What Is Character Development? Character development is two things: Character development is the the process by which an author develops a detailed character profile. This activity is usually done in conjunction with plot development and takes place as part of the planning process, before the writer actually starts to write.Character development also refers to the way a character changes through the course of the novel, generally in response to the experiences and events gathered through the course of the story itself. This is known as the Character Arc. (Need more? Get plot structure advice here.) Those twin definitions are immediately helpful. Yes: you have to develop a character profile before starting to write, but you also have to knit your character so closely to the story you’re going to tell that the two things seemed joined at the hip. Ideally, the reader won’t be able to imagine any other character occupying your story – just like you couldn’t imagine Girl with a Dragon Tattoo without the inflammatory, exciting presence of Lisbeth Salander. So: the first question is, how do we choose the right character for the story we’re about to tell? That’s up next. Plan Your Character Arcs The two basic character types in fiction – and how to choose the one who’s right for your novel. There are two basic types of main character (or protagonist) in fiction: The first type is an ordinary character plunged into the extraordinary. And, by this process, they become a little more extraordinary themselves.The second character type start out extraordinary – they could make things happen in an empty room. You need to be careful about identifying which character is which. You might think that Harry Potter can’t be ordinary, because he’s a wizard. But think about it. He seemed like quite an ordinary boy. And when he gets to wizard school he seems quite ordinary there too (daunted by the school, a bit scared of Hermione, and so on.) He’s an ordinary wizard who finds his inner extraordinary self over the course of seven books. Lisbeth Salander, however, never strikes the reader as ordinary. She’s a rule-breaking, computer genius with anti-social traits and a scary capacity for violence. You just know she’s going to cause waves, no matter where she goes. Here’s a quick way to figure out what kind of character yours is: Ordinary Characters Will typically refuse adventure, or accept it only reluctantly.Will typically have something of the boy next door / girl next door quality to them. That doesn’t mean they have to be boring (we’re all different after all), but it does mean that they can act as a kind of placeholder for the reader. “That person could be me. That adventure could have been mine.“Will typically find something heroic or extraordinary in themselves as a result of the adventure. Something that was buried becomes visible.The adventure has to echo or vibrate with whatever is distinctive about the character. So at the very start of the Harry Potter series, Harry seems like an ordinary boy, except that he’s an orphan. No wonder then that the entire series revolves around Harry completing the battles of his lost parents. Extraordinary Characters Will often leap into adventure. May even create it.Will typically seem nothing whatsoever like the nice kid next door.Will have something astonishing in them all the time. Something that probably makes them look awkwardly ill-at-ease in the ordinary world.But, as with ordinary characters, the adventure will resonate with who they are. Sherlock Holmes is a detective – so let him solve crimes! Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a CIA guy, so drop him into a thriller, not a schmalzy love story! What A Character Arc Looks Like You can already see how these three things need to intertwine: Your character’s profile at the start of the book.The story your character plunges into.The way your character develops through the course of that story. So for one hyper-simple example, you might have: Harry Potter starts out as an ordinary boy, albeit one with natural wizarding ability.He is plunged into a life or death battle against Voldemort.He discovers previously unseen reserves of courage and resourcefulness – he finds his inner extraordinary. Here’s another example of the same thing, this time from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy Bennet is an ordinary young woman, but somewhat prone to impulsive and immature judgements.She is plunged into a tumultuous love story, and …Discovers new wisdom and maturity. These things are beautifully simple when you see them – but needless to say, designing something beautifully simple ain’t so easy. (Just ask Steve Jobs!) Build Your Character Development Arc Your first task? Simple. Just do the same thing as we’ve just done for Harry Potter and Lizzy Bennet. Take a sheet of paper and write out – in a few words only – the following: Your character’s broad start position.The nature of the story.The way your character develops as a result of the story you are telling. Do that exercise. Make sure you’re happy with it. And when you are – congratulations. You’ve just taken your first big step in developing your character. Try Our Ultimate Character Profile Template Also called a “Character Bio Template”. Figuring out who you want to lead your story is the first essential of success. But the next part – the fun one – is every bit as important. And the rule here is simple: You have to know your main character better than you know your best friend. That’s it. The simple fact is that strong characterisation is based on knowledge. The only way to write a really convincing, lifelike, vibrant protagonist is to know them inside out. If you have this knowledge, you will find yourself using it. If you don’t have it, you can’t. So the problem of writing character comes down to this: you have to know your protagonist. And we’ve got a brilliant technique to help with just that. If you haven’t yet started your book, then work on the character creator exercise below before you start. If you have started, but think that maybe you started prematurely, then back up. Do the exercise and then read back through your work, looking for places where your characters seem a little blank. So. Let’s start. Use A Character Profile / Bio To Develop Stunning Characters Begin with a blank sheet (or screen). And begin to write down everything you know about your central character. Don’t be too concerned to edit yourself at this stage. Just let rip: this will be your character profile. It helps to group your comments a bit under certain themes, but if that inhibits your flow then just write. Group your notes up later. You should cover all kinds of topics, including: Backstory Where did your protagonist come from?What was their childhood like? Happy or sad?What were relations like with their parents? Or siblings?If their father was (say) extravagant, what impact did this have? If their mother was (say) easily tearful, how did this affect them?And what about now, where relations with others are concerned?Were there key incidents in childhood that shaped this person in a way relevant to your book’s story?What about more recent backstory? Their move to Arkansas, joining the army, their first romantic partner? Sketch those things out too. Write how your protagonist’s backstory has shaped their drives, their character arc, and will shape your plot. It helps if examples are concrete, showing your protagonist via actions and choices in specific situations. (And yes: showing matters. If you need a show vs tell refresher, we’ve got it for you.) Looks And Physical Attributes Get to know how your character looks, how they inhabit their body and how they interact with the world: Is your character tall or short? What hair colour, face & body shape, what eye colour?Are they physically graceful? Or clumsy? Or what?What animal do they most remind you of?If you had to choose one image to represent this person, what would it be? [Hint: the best answers to that question often float between the physical and something a bit more spiritual. There’s often something mobile in the image, not just static. examples: “She was like a deer grazing in snow.” or “He was like an iron sword of the old type. Unbending. Strong. Prone to a sudden, flashing anger.”]How does your character sleep?How do they fiddle?Are they impatient?How do they eat? What foods do they love and hate?What do they look like from a distance? Or close up, when seen by a stranger?What is their voice like? Or their laugh? Think of an actor or actress who could play your character. If you need a visual image to work from, then look through magazines until you’ve got something you can use. Pin it up close to where you work, and work from that. Or create an inspiration board, either a real one or using a site like Pinterest, to pin images of your characters, of story aesthetic, etc Your Character’s Personality Is your character sunny and carefree, like Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice?Or hardened, unforgiving, like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?What impression would they make on a casual observer?Are they screwed up in any way?Are they conflict-avoiders or conflict-seekers?Are they sensitive or selfish lovers?How emotionally involved would they get?How does all of this feed into their character arc (ie: the way they develop through the story)?If you answered a Myers-Briggs personality test in character, what would your character’s results be? Relationships Why has your character chosen this partner?Is he or she like the partners your character normally goes for?Do they go in for cutesy baby-talk? Or hard-edged flippancy? Or reflectiveness?What are their pet names for each other?Do they encourage maturity in the other or bring out the less mature side?What are their disagreements about? Do they row, and if so, how? How do they mend rows?What does one love most about the other? What do they most dislike?What is your predicted future for the relationship beyond the end of the novel? Goals, Fears, Ambitions Be sure, most essentially, you know your characters’ deeper goals and motivations. What’s their deepest wish?What are they most afraid of?What would failure mean for them? What voices would they have in their head commenting on that failure? (eg: a critical parent, or a disappointed friend.)What’s the goal, the thing they most desire?Does it change? And why?What’s their motivation for wanting it. What does it say about their nature? The Ultimate Character Profile Template The very best way to get to know your characters is to do this: Write a list of 200+ questions about your character.Then answer them. Do that, and before too long, you’ll know your character with utter intimacy. You’ll move beyond some mechanical character development exercise into deep, fluent, easy knowledge. Do note that you have to write the questions before you start answering them, otherwise you end up just asking questions that you already know answers to. Oh, and it’s incredibly hard to come up with a really long list of questions that really probe everything about your character – so we’ve done it for you. We’ve created the Ultimate Jericho Writers Character Building Worksheet, and it’s yours for free. Give yourself an hour or two on that exercise and, quite honestly, your character development journey is mostly complete. Nice to know, right? Build Empathy With Your Characters Why your character’s motivation matters so much You know that thing that literary agents do? “While we liked your book a lot, we didn’t quite love it. We didn’t quite feel empathy with your main character, but wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.” Makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? And the issue is NOT that your character isn’t nice enough. It’s not that she needs to do more home-baking, or go to more church meetings, or smile more sweetly. The equation is simply this: Empathy = Character’s motivations + reader understanding. That’s it. The whole deal. If a character really wants something, and the reader really gets why that thing matters so much to that character, then the reader is committed. They’ll feel intensely involved. They will, if they’re a literary agent, want to represent your novel. In terms of your character development challenge, that means you need to: Understand your character’s motivations deeply.Make sure your character really cares (because if they don’t, the reader won’t).Make sure your character’s motivations come through in your writing. And that’s it. Simple, right? Dialogue: Characters In Relationship While we’re on the topic of building empathy, it’s also worth remembering that your character doesn’t exist in isolation – they’re at the centre of a particular web of relationships that will be tugging at them with complex and often contradictory forces. That’s quite likely tough for the character – but great for the reader. And dialogue is where you’ll feel those emotional pulls and pushes most forcefully and in their most alive possible way. Making sure that your dialogue is sinuous and mobile will give a real kick to your character – and add whole new layers to the process of acquiring and retaining the reader’s empathy. More dialogue help right here. That’s It: Character Development – Done! If you’ve done the work on developing your character arc, and you’ve explored your character in detail via our Ultimate Character Development Sheet, then you know what? You’ve completed your character development work. Yay! Truthfully, you’ll be ahead of at least 95% of the other writers out there. Well done you. If your plot is roughly in shape, then you’re good to start writing, and your first draft (though it won’t be perfect) should be a pretty damn good platform for your final, finished book. That said, once you have written (say) 10,000 words of your first draft – STOP. Just stop writing and review what you’ve written so far. Does your character feel like a fully rounded human? Or a cliche? Do you make plenty of reference (where appropriate) to your character’s thoughts, memories, feelings and physical sensations? Does the character feel fresh or stale? Individual, or just a standard character type? If your answers are yes, this character feels fresh and individual, then your work has paid off. You’ve created a great character – and your novel is well on its way to being a damn good one. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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