As I learned and grew as a writer, I went back over and over my novel to add more layers to it. In this series I’m writing about each of my ‘layers’ in the hope it will help someone who is starting out. This week we look at characters.
The film Galaxy Quest is about a group of actors from a Star Trek-type TV series who are kidnapped by aliens who need saving from invaders. They think the TV series is real. One of the actors plays a character with no name. He is convinced that means he is going to die. To keep a TV series going they can’t kill off the main characters, so minor characters are introduced so they can be the ones to die.
Script writers and novelists have found it far more powerful to kill a character people have already taken to. Characters don’t have to die to have a powerful effect on readers, but they do have to be realistic to get into people’s hearts.
Characters have to be real people, with a description, an attitude, a background, mannerisms. The more important the character, the more details you need.
Your story has an arc which goes from the setting up of the situation which the story is about, through the various problems or crises, to the resolution of the story. Likewise the main characters also have an arc – they are not the same at the end of the story as at the beginning. What motivates each character? What do they believe? What is important to them? What are their goals? How do they change and why?
In my novel Intruders there is a trainee who gets co-opted to join the Kestrel crew because they are short-handed. Originally it was a device to have someone new who could ask questions and have things explained to her, and therefore the reader would find out. Then I realised how she must feel, dropped in the deep end, and the assistant engineer takes a shine to her and she doesn’t know how to handle it. It all made the story much more interesting.
There is an eternal debate over which is most important to a story: plot or characters. In fact, they are the same. Your plot is the actions of your characters, and your characters are defined by their actions and reactions to the events of the plot. Make sure you have well defined characters.