Guest Post: How Creating Strong Characters Can Help You Build Your Plot by Kristen Kieffer of She’s Novel

Learn how strong #characters and your #plot go hand in hand! Plus, a free workbook!Today I have the pleasure of welcoming the lovely Kristen Kieffer from She’s Novel to the blog for an epic guest post! She’s even created a shiny workbook to help you through all info, which you can download for free by clicking here. Ready to get started?

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What’s more important: characters or plot?

This age-old question has been a source of debate among writers for decades. But let me ask you this: do characters and plot have to be exclusive? Do we have to say that one is more important than the other?

Of course not!

In fact, I’m a firm believer that it is your characters’ stories that actually make up your plot. Their actions and experiences are what drive the novel forward. To say that one is more important than the other is like saying that peanut butter is more important than jelly in the making of a PB&J.

It just doesn’t make sense!

If your characters’ actions make up the plot, then you’re going to need great characters to write a story that will keep readers turning pages. But how exactly can you craft spectacularly memorable characters?

While some factors may depend on your character’s role in the story, there are three things that every character should have. Let’s break them down, eh?

3 Things You Need to Create Strong Characters

1. A Goal

Your character’s goal is the one thing that they are trying to achieve. They believe that attaining this goal will bring them success and happiness, though sometimes what they think they want and what they actually need will be different.

Your characters need strong goals because goals are what drive them to action. They want something, and they are going to take steps to attain it. And should someone stand in their path to success, you can be sure that your character will jump into action, seeking a way to overcome their obstacles.

Simply put: by giving your characters each a clear goal, you are setting yourself up for easy plot production.

 2. A Motivation

Your character’s motivation is the why behind their goal, the reason they are taking action. It’s important to give each of your characters strong motivations as well as strong goals for two main reasons.

  1. A) Motivations reveal who your characters are at heart. They make the good guy realistic and the bad guy sympathetic. They help readers see that your characters are more than just a role to be fulfilled, that they are indeed – in the space of your novel – real people.
  1. B) Some characters, such as your hero and your villain, may have the same goal. Giving each character vastly different motivations will help readers identify the protagonist and the antagonist.

3. A Personality

Having strong goals and motivations will make your characters’ actions interesting, but plots aren’t always made up of action. They also contain interactions between different characters. The ways in which your characters treat one another during these interactions will be determined by their personalities.

When crafting a personality for each of your characters, make sure to give them more than one trait. Characters who are always cheery (or angry or sad, etc.) make for very boring, shallow characters. Don’t settle for that!

Once you’ve chosen a few personality traits, decide when each of those traits comes in to play. If your character is prone to anger, what sets them off? If your character is silly, what makes them laugh? Repeat this process for each of their traits to discover exactly how your character will act in every situation they encounter.

Building Your Plot

Now that you’ve crafted strong characters, it’s time to use their stories to build a plot!

Using only the goals, motivations, and personalities of two characters in particular – your hero and your villain – you will be able to form a plot outline that you can later expand upon as you get to know your story better.

Let’s break down these eight steps to creating a basic plot.

8 Steps for Creating a Plot

1. Understand Their Goals

You know the goals your hero and your villain have, but do you what sparked their desire to achieve those goals in the first place? Was there an event in their past that introduced this desire or does something happen in the first chapters of your novel that sets them down their path?

Keep in mind, understanding what sparked your characters’ goals isn’t the same thing as knowing their motivations. For example, a character may desire to form a rock band after seeing his favorite band play in concert (that would be the spark), but he may only want to start playing music so that he can become famous (that would be the motivation).

Understanding what sparks your characters’ goals will help you establish the beginning of your novel. The spark encourages your characters to take action, setting the plot into motion.

2. Build a Plan

Your hero and your villain each have a goal, but how do they plan on achieving it? Begin to lay out what steps they would take if everything went according to plan. Of course, this plan won’t go smoothly in the end since you’ll be adding conflict to spice your story up. But knowing what paths your characters would take will help you decide what they will actually do at each major plot point.

3. Give Your Hero an Early Failure

To create riveting conflict, you’ll need to show your readers that the villain is actually quite formidable, so much so that your hero might not make it out alive – literally or figuratively speaking.

To show just how powerful your villain is, have them take a step towards achieving their goal that sets the hero back. This will be your hero’s first failure, and it will force them to change their course. Ask yourself what your hero’s next step to achieving their goal will be, and have them work towards it.

Making your villain’s strength evident as soon as possible will hook your readers in for the long run, while also serving to reveal your hero’s motivation. After all, if your hero wasn’t passionate about achieving their goal in the first place, they would probably quit after this early failure. Make sure your readers know that.

4. Put Their Personalities to Work

At this point in your plot, your hero is feeling a tad defeated while your villain is reveling in their achievement. This is where your characters’ personalities will really come into play. Ask yourself:

  1. How does my hero handle their setback on an emotional level?
  2. Does my hero need help to move forward? If so, how do they feel about asking for help?
  3. How does my villain react to making forward progress?
  4. How does my villain treat others based on their early success?

By working your responses into the plot, you’ll allow readers to get to know your characters on a deeper level, ensuring that they –and, in turn, your plot–remain interesting.

 5. See Some Success

Now that you have established the villain’s power and given more insight into your characters, it’s time for them both to make some forward progress. Your hero and your villain should be working towards their goals at full-steam, and each should see some measure of success.

Their progress should definitely be hard-earned (they may even experience a few small setbacks along the way), but for all intents and purposes they are getting closer to achieving their goals. Which also means that they are getting closer to coming into conflict once again.

6. Test Your Hero

At this point in your plot, readers may be feeling pretty comfortable in your hero’s ability to overcome the villain and achieve their goal. Once again, it is time to test your hero’s mettle by making them fail.

Only this time, your hero’s failure shouldn’t be something that merely sets them back. This failure should be massive, something that makes your hero seriously consider quitting their journey altogether. The loss they experience should call their motivations into question, making them wonder if anything they have done thus far has been worth the price they have had to pay.

This not only skyrockets the tension in your novel skyrocket, but opens up the opportunity for you to give your hero some emotional development, as well as to reveal what they truly need to find success (compared to what they’ve been chasing so far).

This is also the place where readers finally get to know the most raw, vulnerable version of your hero, where their true personality becomes more evident than ever.

7. Enter the Climatic Tension

Whether your characters have been chasing individual goals or the same goal for individual reasons, this is the point where they come into final conflict with one another. And it should be epic!

Neither character should be able to take another step towards achieving their goal because the other stands directly in their path to success. As a result, someone’s dream will be completely shattered by the time the conflict ends. All of your hero’s and villain’s actions are hanging on this one final thread, and there is no turning back.

8. The Resolution

The climax is over, and it is now revealed which character will achieve their goal. But do you know how they do it? In some stories, defeating the villain will be your hero’s singular goal (or vice versa), while in other stories, defeating the villain is the last stepping stone in your hero’s path to success.

If they haven’t done so already, now is the time for your character to finally achieve their goal.

This is also the point where we learn how the action thus far had affected your character. Are they the same person in the end of the novel as they were in the beginning? Have they changed for better or for worse?

Use this last portion of your plot to wrap up your main character’s story, revealing how they finally achieved their goal and how doing so shapes the rest of their lives.

And, voila! In eight simple steps, you’ve learned how giving your characters’ goals, motivations, and personalities can help you craft a powerful and memorable plot. Do you agree that characters are the backbone of a novel? How have your own characters shaped your story’s plot?

About Kristen

kristen kiefferKristen Kieffer is the creative-writing coach behind She’s Novel, where she helps writers craft novels that will endear readers, excite publishers, and launch their writing careers.
Her latest creation, The Novel Planner, is a daily planner designed specifically with authors in mind. Kristen also loves coffee, geeking out over Tolkien, and editing her upcoming medieval fantasy novel, The Dark Between. Want to know more? Click here!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Character Bios

The Do's and Don'ts of Character Bios | Learn how to #write a solid #character bio without going overboard on unnecessary details. Plus, a FREE worksheet!I love getting to know my characters–it’s one of my favorite parts of writing a story. But it wasn’t always that way! When I first started writing, I stressed out so much over creating life-like characters. Just how much did I need to know about them? I thought that in order to make my characters realistic I needed to know everything about them. And I mean everything.

Have you ever seen those lengthy character questionnaires with endless questions like “what’s his favorite color?” or “what’s in her purse right now?” or even “what color underwear does he wear? Boxers or briefs?”

I’m not making this stuff up, people. (Okay, well maybe I am a little). But seriously, I hate all those lists of silly questions. They’re such a waste of time! And I used to think that I needed to answer them all in order to get to know my character. Oh, naivety.

Some of those questions may be interesting and give you insight into your character, but let’s be real here, how much of that information are you actually going to use? And more importantly, how much should you use? You may not realize it, but having too much information about your character can do more harm than good!

The Cons of Questionnaires

How so? Because you when you fill out those sorts of bio questionnaires, you end up with loads of unnecessary information. Which does not bode well for your novel. When you create a character bio, you only want information that is relevant to your story–everything else needs to go.

If you have all of these extra details you find interesting but have nothing whatsoever to do with your story, you’re going to be tempted to find ways to try to cram them in. You might add in random scenes or subplots to show this information, but you will only succeed in confusing the reader. They’ll wonder where you’re going with that, and how it’s important to the story.

The answers is nowhere and not at all. But see, that’s how a reader’s mind works–they trust that everything you’re telling them is relevant in some way to the story, and if it is not important now it will be of importance later. If the reader turns the last page and realizes that one scene where Ben showed off his martial arts skills actually wasn’t of any importance of all, they’re going to feel cheated and lose trust in you.

The Secret to a Focused Bio

So how do you create a character bio that works without going overboard (thus saving you time and headaches)? You need to focus on two main points: the origin of your character’s internal issue, and his goal/motivation.

“That’s it?!” you asked, bewildered.

Can it really be that simple? Yes, yes it can. Okay, so yes, you’re going to explore other things like flaws, strengths, personality traits, etc. but these two points are the guiding lights that are basically the basis for your whole story.

Let’s look at an example.

In Frozen, we see how Elsa’s parents feared her powers and taught her that she should hide them and pretend like they weren’t there. This childhood experience is what creates her internal conflict: her struggle with controlling her powers and her shame of being different. Her goal in the story is to let go of everything she’s tried to suppress and finally embrace herself and her powers. These two things are not only the basis for Elsa’s character, but also the plot of the story!

So what are some do’s and dont’s for creating a solid character bio that doesn’t go overboard?

The Do’s

1. Focus on your character’s arc. Your story is essentially about how your character changes as he tries to achieve his goal. Your character bio should focus on what your character was like before the change that will take place in the story. This usually revolves around the internal conflict. For example, is he prejudiced now but will become accepting by the end of the story? Dig around and found out why or where this started.

2. Give every major character a bio. Yes it’s a lot of work, but it’s important work. You need to understand what makes all of your characters tick, what they want, and what’s motivating them. Of course you won’t need to go as in-depth for minor characters as opposed to main characters, and not everything will make it onto the page, but you need to know it in order to make them realistic.

The Don’ts

1. Don’t hold back. Don’t shy away from getting into the psychology of your character. Explore their past and unearth their secrets, sins, and skeletons. What are they hiding that they don’t want to tell you? Dig deep and make them talk.

2. Don’t try to write your bio like it’s your novel. Forget perfection. No one is going to see this except you, so who cares if it’s a hot mess? Scribble, use brief notes only you can decipher, jump around all over your character’s timeline. Anything goes.

What’s your opinion on character questionnaires? What methods do you use for creating your character bios?

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Does Your Hero Have an Opinion?

Does Your #Hero Have an Opinion? | Your hero's opinions are an important part of his #characterization. Learn what sort of opinions to share and how to show them! “So what did you think?”

We love asking this question to friends, family, and even new acquaintances. Whether it’s about a movie, TV show, book, restaurant, place, concert, or event, we enjoying hearing people’s answer. But why?

We want to know how they experienced it. We want to know their opinion.

Again, why?

Because sharing our experiences brings us closer together, and our opinions reveal more about who we are and our perspective on the world. Everyone experiences things differently, and everyone has a different opinion. It’s in our nature to be curious about what others are thinking and how they see things.

Think about it. Why do we go to the movies with friends? Isn’t it kind of silly? You’re sitting in a dark theater where you can’t talk to each other, so why not just go alone? Because we enjoy having another person there to share the experience of the story.

But perhaps more importantly, after the final credits have rolled we can’t wait to swap our opinions about what we’ve just seen. What did you think of the actor? The special effects? The storyline? We love knowing people’s opinions!

So let me ask you: what are your hero’s opinions? Do you reveal them throughout the story? If not, you should! Let’s examine the why, what, and how of showing your hero’s opinion.

Why Show Your Hero’s Opinion?

Showing your hero’s opinion is an excellent way to develop his character. This will add another layer of depth that will make him even more realistic.  It also helps your readers get to know who he is and starts to create a bond. His opinions will not only reveal how he sees the world, but will also shape the tone and personality of the writing.

What Opinions Should You Show?

Here’s the crucial bit: only show us your hero’s opinions on things that are relevant to the story!

If government plays an important role, show us his opinion on the government. If his teacher plays a role in a scene, show us his opinion of her. But don’t give us his opinion on things like bubblegum and kittens that have nothing to do with who he is or what’s happening in the story!

Be sure to give us his opinion about any new experiences, events, people, places, etc. he comes into contact with during the story. You’d be surprised how many writers forget to do this!

For example, let’s say the hero finds himself in a top-secret government department that covers up the existence of aliens. He acts surprised for a moment, but then keeps charging headlong through the action of the plot. Wait. Pause. I want to know what the heck the hero is thinking about all this! What is his opinion? Get into the habit of showing your hero’s internal as well as external reactions!

Ultimately, what opinions are and aren’t important is for you to decide. Just remember to keep it relevant!

How Do You Show Your Hero’s Opinion?

If you’re writing in first person this one is easy–you just say what the hero is thinking. But if you’re writing in third person it’s a little trickier.

When you’re writing in third person, try to remember to filter everything through the hero’s point of view. This means the words, similes etc. that you use to describe what your hero is seeing and experiencing should be ones that he would choose himself. Word choice is a more subtle expression of opinion–it lets you know how the character feels about something without actually coming right out and saying it.

You’re also going to want to share what your character’s opinion through their thoughts. Italics work and is what many writers use, but I’m not a fan of them. I think they show the author’s hand in the story and create distance between the reader and character. I prefer weaving the hero’s thoughts right into the narrative. I’ve written an in-depth post on how to do this, which you can read here.

Showing your hero’s opinion is all about looking inward and remembering to balance the external and internal. However, it’s important to keep in mind that your hero’s opinion is more than an emotional reaction–his belief itself will shape his reaction.

Best of luck with your character crafting!

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Are You Making These Point of View Mistakes?

Are You Making These Point of View Mistakes? | Two #POV mistakes you want to avoid in your #story!Point of view is important to your story, and it must be established immediately. Why? Because the reader needs to know whose “head” they’re in, whose story this is. Your hero is the reader’s access point to the story. They will experience the story along with the hero–through his or her point of view.

There are a couple mistakes I’ve seen made frequently with point of view, especially by new writers. I think these come from the writer trying to do too much and trying to show the reader everything.

But that’s the thing about POV–you can’t show the reader everything. To understand what I mean, let’s examine these two POV mistakes.

Mistake #1: Head Hopping

When you’re writing a scene, make sure you only stay in one character’s head at a time. Switching back and forth between characters is known as “head hopping” and it’s jarring to the reader.

So what does this look like? Here’s an example:

Melissa wondered why Tom had asked her to meet him in the middle of the night. She leaned against the tree at the edge of the park, watching him approach.

“Hey,” she said, “Is everything all right?”

Tom took her hands in his. How could he tell her what was happening? He didn’t want to frighten her. “I’m fine. Listen, I need you to leave town for a few days.”

“What do you mean? Why?” What was going on, Melissa wondered.

“I just need you to trust me,” he said, hoping she wouldn’t argue. “Take this.” He pressed the train ticket he had purchased that morning into her hand.

Melissa shook her head. She wasn’t going anywhere until she had answers. Tom saw the look on her face and knew she wasn’t giving up easily.

***

It’s like watching a ping pong match, isn’t it? We keep switching back and forth between Melissa and Tom’s head, and not only is it disorienting, but it’s boring.

But why is it boring?

Because we’re being told everything. There’s no work left for the reader. There are no blanks for us to fill in, nothing for us to guess at or wonder. The writer has unintentionally deprived the reader of one of the joys of reading.

When we’re in one character’s head at a time, we’re constantly trying to interpret and figure out what the other character is thinking and feeling by judging their body language, dialogue, and whatever other clues the writer might provide. There’s something tantalizing about trying to figure out the puzzle of a character.

I think writers fall into this habit of head hopping because they want to let the reader know what each character in a scene is thinking/feeling. But it’s just not good having too many characters sharing the stage at once–after a while we may wonder whose story this even is.

Now, of course this doesn’t mean you can’t use more than one POV in your story. Stories with multiple POVs  are fantastic! The rule is to stay in one character’s POV per scene. If you want to change POV, then you need to switch to a new scene.

Mistake #2: Showing the Same Thing Twice

When you’re writing a story where you’re switching back and forth between multiple POVs, there’s one mistake you’re going to want to avoid: Never show the reader the same thing twice. What do I mean by this?

Let’s say you have a scene in which Sarah wins her swim meet competition. Then we switch to the next scene, which is from her boyfriend Matt’s POV…and it shows him watching her compete. We already know the outcome of the competition–we experienced it from Sarah’s POV–so we’re not going to care what happens here.

Never show the same scene from two different POVs. It’s going to kill your story’s tension and momentum. Yes, each character will see and experience it differently and this may be interesting to you, but it’s going to bore your reader. You’re just going to sound repetitive, and the reader is going to start skimming (harsh, I know). But we read because we want to know what happens next, not what has already happened.

As a writer, you have to choose from whose POV it’s best to show each scene. This isn’t easy, and I know it’s tempting to show both, but don’t. You can’t show the reader everything and you shouldn’t–you need to place trust in her that she can fill in the blanks.

Have you made either of these POV mistakes in your writing?

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How to Write Your Character’s Thoughts

Confused about how to #write your character's thoughts? Learn how to bring readers inside your character's head.At some point in your story, you’re probably going to want to let the reader know what your protagonist is thinking. Sharing your hero’s thoughts helps us get to know him better and brings us closer to him. But when you come to that moment you hesitate.

How are you supposed to convey your character’s thoughts on the page? Do you use italics? Quotation marks? End them with the speech tag ‘he thought’?

No, no, and no.

Quotation marks should be used only for words being spoken aloud. The most common method I’ve seen for setting apart thoughts is the use of italics. “He/she thought” at the end of a thought is also pretty common. These methods are alright.

But there’s a better way.

Using Writer Magic to Convey Thoughts

A truly skilled writer can convey his or her character’s thoughts in a way that draws us right into the character’s head without distracting italics or speech tags. “What is this witchcraft?” you ask. Well, let’s take a look.

Example 1:

Kali hurried though the village. She wondered if he was already waiting for her. She lifted her skirts and leapt over a puddle. She knew she should have left earlier, but her mother had kept on talking about the chickens. Sweat trickled down her neck and she wiped it away. She ran a hand through her disheveled hair and wished she had taken the time to fix it before running out the door.

Kali ran past the village outskirts and into the forest. They really needed to find a better meeting place, she thought. When she reached the oak tree and saw Liam standing there her heart fluttered. He’s the only secret I’ve ever had.

Example 2:

Kali hurried through the village. Was he already waiting for her? She lifted her skirts and leapt over a puddle. She should have left earlier, but her mother had kept on and on about the chickens. Chickens this, and eggs that. Be sure to this, don’t do it like that. Kali had been fidgety with impatience and couldn’t much remember the details. Hopefully they weren’t too important.

Sweat trickled down her neck and she wiped it away. She ran a hand through her disheveled hair. Saints! Why hadn’t she taken a moment to fix it? Perhaps he wouldn’t notice. Boys usually didn’t notice things like that…did they? Kali ran past the village outskirts and into the forest. They really needed to find a better meeting place, maybe over by–

She reached the oak and saw Liam standing there. Her heart fluttered. He was her only secret. And she planned on keeping him.

Over exaggerated, yes, but you get the point. Notice the difference between the two examples. The second one is more engaging, and brings you into Kali’s head more than the first one with all the she wondered, thought, etc. But how? It has more of Kali’s voice–it’s almost as though she is the narrator, yet we stay in third person point of view.

In the second example I took out all of the she wondered, thought, knew, and italics. Why? Because these are all interruptions by the author. They reveal that there’s a puppet master pulling the strings. In the second example I shut up and let Kali speak. I stayed invisible. And that brings the reader closer to the character, allowing them to slip right into her mind.

The Problem with Speech Tags and Italics

Speech tags and italics form a barrier between the character and the reader. Don’t try to separate your character’s thoughts from the narrative. Instead, blend them together seamlessly by filtering everything through your character’s voice. How does  she see the world? Allow her thoughts and opinions to shape the narrative.

I think a lot of writers use speech tags and italics because they’re afraid their readers won’t know what is a thought otherwise. Don’t underestimate your readers’ intelligence! Don’t try so hard to make them “get it.” Readers are smart and can figure things out.

Now, some of you might still be clinging to the italics. “Why can’t I use italics? If the character is speaking in first person doesn’t that draw the reader into their head?” you ask.

Well, there’s certainly no rule that says you can’t use italics. But here are my reasons not to. #1: It can be jarring and somewhat disorienting switching back and forth between third and first person. #2: It still separates the reader from the character, letting us only see her thoughts when you want us to. #3: It prevents you from getting into the habit of using a blended narrative, because you will always want to show thoughts in italics. The story will then likely be told in more of your voice than the character’s.

Distance or Proximity?

Now, these aren’t necessarily bad things. It depends on the story you’re writing. You may want to write a story with an omniscient third person point of view that puts more distance between the reader and hero. It’s up to you!

I have used italics in the past, but I decided that the technique of blending the character’s thoughts into the narrative works better for the stories I tell. I want to bring my readers as close to my hero as possible. I want to tear down all the barriers.

How do you convey your character’s thoughts? Do you think you will try to cut out italics and speech tags?

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How to Create a Likable Hero Readers Will Pull for

How to Create A Likable Hero Readers Will Pull For | Is your #hero likable? If readers don't love your hero they won't care what happens in your story.Your characters are the most important part of your story, more so even than the plot (though that’s important to!). So you need readers to like your hero. If the reader finds him repulsive, well…she’s not going to stick around to find out what happens to someone she doesn’t care about!

Have you ever read a book where the main character was unlikable? You really really wanted to get into the book, the plot was interesting and so were some of the other characters, but the hero was just…ugh. Is there anything more frustrating?

So how do you keep readers from hating your hero? Well, besides making him unique and fully developed, you need to make him likable.

It baffles me how many books I’ve picked up with unlikable characters. A while ago I tried to read Poison by Bridget Zinn. I really really wanted to like the book because I love Fantasy. But I couldn’t get into it because I found the main character, Kyra, very unlikable.

She hated children and animals (including the little piglet in the story), wasn’t very nice to Fred (the love interest and character I did like), and she was trying to poison her best friend to save the kingdom.

The whole time I was reading I kept asking myself, why am I supposed to like this character?

I’m sure Kyra had her reasons, but the problem was we didn’t learn them soon enough. And I didn’t stick around to find out why she thought she had to kill her best friend to save the kingdom–the book went back to the library unfinished.

The thing is, you need to keep in mind how a story functions. A story is basically about a character who wants something, and their journey to get it. You want the reader to like the character and cheer him on towards his goal. That’s what keeps the reader hooked–wondering if the character she loves will manage to succeed in his goal. But if the reader finds the character unlikable, she won’t care whether or not he succeeds.

Now, I have a bone to pick with my fellow writers about female characters. I have a really hard time finding female characters I like, because I find so many of them unlikable. Why? It seems that authors try so hard to make their female characters strong, that they end up making them come across as heartless jerks instead. Ironically, in trying to make the character likable by making them a tough bad ass, they actually end up being unlikable.

Now, this does not mean that your hero has to be perfect! (That’s something you don’t want). Your hero should have flaws, but still have traits that make him, well, the hero. Heck, your character can even be a grumpy pessimist and still be heroic. “Wait,” you say, “I thought I’m supposed to make him likable! How can a reader like a grumpy pessimist?”

That’s the interesting thing–by giving a character certain redeemable qualities, you can make the reader like him even if he’s not the friendliest sort.

Take Katniss from The Hunger Games for example. She’s not very sociable, hates her sister’s pet cat, and can be prickly. But we love her. Why? Because we see good qualities in Katniss. She loves her sister and volunteered to take her place in the games. She also cares for people–Gale, Peeta, Rue, Cinna, and even Effie. These are traits we can admire, and they balance out the qualities that otherwise might make Katniss unlikable.

Readers need the hero to be likable in some way. No one wants to read about a total jerk. Early on, you need to show us that your main character possesses heroic qualities, that there is something good about him.

Here are some techniques for creating a likable character your readers will pull for.

1. Create sympathy. Give us something that will pull at our heartstrings and put us on your hero’s side. Is he an orphan? Is he living in poverty? Was his brother murdered? Was he unjustly accused of something he didn’t do? A sympathetic quality can work wonders.

2. Let us empathize. Give him qualities that we share and can understand so we can be like, oh I feel you, or damn, I’ve been there. This allows us to make a connection with the hero and helps us bond with him. For example, think of Ron Weasley and Harry Potter–they hated doing homework and were always trying to find shortcuts or ways to avoid it. It was funny and we could feel their pain because we’ve all been there!

3. Give them positive traits–and show them in action. Make sure you give your hero positive traits to balance out his flaws, like honesty, compassion, loyalty, bravery, etc. But it’s not enough to just tell us that your character is good and brave. You need to show his good qualities in action. Maybe he stands up to a bully or saves a puppy from getting hit by a car. Let us see that he isn’t all talk!

4. Give them likable traits. Similar to the above, but not quite the same. I’m talking about things like charm, wit, humor, passion, skills, and quirks. You know, the kinds of things that make a character interesting, irresistible, and fun. The kinds of things you would look for in friends you want to hang out with.

5. Let us know who admires or looks up to them. Who admires your hero and why? Let us know and we will be more likely to admire him too. For example, in The Hunger Games, Prim looks up to Katniss, and the way Katniss cares for her makes us like her more.

6. Reveal the cause of their flaws. If you give reasons for your hero’s flaws it will make readers more understanding of them, and more likely to be forgiving or sympathetic. Why can’t your hero trust or open up? Why does he lie? Why is he so pessimistic? You don’t have to have a reason for every flaw, but for bigger or more serious flaws it can be helpful.

So now that we’ve covered the dos, how about a few don’ts? Here are some things that can make your hero unlikable:

  • always whining/complaining
  • cowardly
  • two-faced
  • hypocritical
  • heartless, doesn’t empathize with others
  • constantly argues/fights with others
  • treats others poorly
  • selfish/self-centered
  • always seems to be a helpless victim

Create a hero who is liked by others in your story and who you would want to be friends with, and your readers will like him too. Or, if you decide to go with a hero who’s rougher around the edges, make sure to give him a redeemable quality early on so the reader will root for him!

Have you ever accidentally created an unlikable hero? What makes a character unlikable for you as a reader?

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Your Heroine Doesn’t Have to “Kick Ass” to be Strong

Your Heroine Doesn't Have to Kick Ass to be Strong | Everyone wants a #strongheroine, but what exactly does it mean to be "strong"? #Writers need to change our perception of feminine strength. Everyone wants a strong heroine.

We love characters who can kick ass like Katniss, Tris, Karou, Celaena, and Eowyn.

But what is it exactly that makes a heroine “strong”?

Lately, I’m having a problem with what the definition of “strong” has become in YA. Everyone seems to want a heroine who can kick ass, wield a sword, shoot a gun (or bow), throw a punch, and barely flinch when she’s hit by a bullet. She has to be able to keep up with the boys, and usually is better than them at fighting and can kick their butts too.

But why are we limiting “strong” heroines to girls who are physically strong and can fight as well as the guys?

I think there’s a problem with this, because strength comes in many different forms. What if a heroine can’t drop kick a villain or wield a sword? Does that mean she isn’t strong? No way!!

What about Rosa Parks? Esther? Sacajawea? Helen Keller? Harriett Tubman? Queen Elizabeth I? Eleanor Roosevelt?

Heroines who can kick ass are awesome, but we need more diversity in what makes a girl strong. Not all female readers are the kung-fu type, and they want to see themselves in stories. They need heroines they can relate to, and who show them you can be strong in different ways.

I like how Ava Jae over at Writability puts it:

There are limitless varieties of girls, and every single one of us deserve to see ourselves as a heroine. We are complicated, and layered, and contradictory, and we are raw, and real, and here.

I have a problem with seeing female characters who are feminine portrayed as weak, fearful, or prissy. I’ve noticed a trend that if a character in a book loves dresses, fixing her hair, and wearing makeup, she’s probably not the heroine. The “girly girl” characters are usually antagonists or obnoxious secondary characters.

Why do we tend to view girls who enjoy being typical girls as somehow weaker? And why is it that when we want to make our heroine strong we give her traditionally masculine traits and have them kick-ass, bottle up their emotions, and hate dresses, makeup, etc.?

I would love to see some heroines who love being girls! Why can’t a heroine love a pretty dress and be strong?

As a writer, I struggle with creating female characters. Why? Because I worry if I make them too feminine readers will see them as weak and annoying. Which is ridiculous! Being feminine does not make a girl weak!

I like kick-ass heroines, but I also like writing characters who are more “traditional” girls but still strong. My heroine in my current novel is a mix between these two. She has been trained as a fighter, but she loves dresses and being a girl. There’s a part in the story where she has to cut off her hair to disguise herself as a boy, and it kills her. She loves her hair, and she loves looking like a girl.

Does this make her weak? I don’t think so. But I’ve been struggling over her because I’m afraid other readers will think so.

Our perception of female strength needs to change. We need to stop labeling “feminine” traits as weak and “masculine” traits as strong and let our heroines be strong people no matter which traits they have.

We need all types of strong girls in YA. We need girls who can wield a sword like Katsa, and girls whose cleverness saves the day like Hermione Granger. How will you make your heroine strong?

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Books featuring the heroines mentioned in this post:

How Your Hero’s Goal Shapes Your Plot

How your hero's #goal drives your #plot, and how you can use it to your advantage. Let me ask you a question: What is your hero’s goal? What is he trying to achieve in your story?

(Okay, technically that was two questions, I lied). If you’re not sure about your answer or you’re sitting there scratching your head, you have some work to do!

It’s crucial for your hero to have a goal. If he doesn’t, you have no story. “Well why not?” you ask?

Because your hero’s goal is what drives the story. It’s the story’s purpose. Like a ripple effect, it influences your entire plot.

What is Your Hero’s Goal?

A novel is essentially a story about a character who wants something and sets out to get it, faces challenges along the way, and either fails or succeeds to attain his desire.

So, what does your character want?

  • Frodo wants to destroy the ring.
  • Katniss wants to win the Hunger Games.
  • The Pevensie siblings want to end the rule of the White Witch in Narnia.

If your character doesn’t want anything, there’s no point in telling his story. Actually, without a goal you don’t have a story–just a string of random events. Your hero’s goal is what unifies events into a plot.

Be sure to make it clear as soon as possible what your character’s goal is. Of course you’ll spend time in the beginning setting up your characters and plot, but don’t wait until halfway through your story to clue readers in to your hero’s goal.

If readers don’t know the goal, the story will feel pointless and random, with no clear direction. They might even begin to wonder if you know where you’re going with this thing. And you do know, don’t you? 😉

What are the Stakes?

What happens if your hero doesn’t achieve his goal? These consequences are called stakes.

  • If Frodo doesn’t destroy the ring, Sauron will take over Middle Earth, destroy his home, and enslave or kill his friends.
  • If Katniss doesn’t win the Hunger Games, she will die and there won’t be anyone to provide for her mother and sister.
  • If the Pevensie siblings don’t defeat the White Witch, Narnia will be trapped in eternal winter and they will either be killed or stuck and unable to return home.

Stakes give your character a reason to fight. When creating your stakes, make it personal to the hero in some way so the fight is his. With your goal and stakes clearly presented in your story, the reader will be able to pull for your character and it will give them a reason to keep reading.

What Obstacles are in the Way?

Every scene should move your character closer to or further from his goal in some way. What is keeping your character from getting what he wants? What does he have to overcome?

  • To destroy the ring, Frodo has to evade wraiths and orcs and travel all the way to Mordor.
  • To win the Hunger Games, Katniss is faced with killing other opponents, which goes against what she believes in.
  • To defeat the White Witch, the Pevensie siblings must battle her army.

There are tons of obstacles in a story, some large and some small. Some may be physical and others may be internal. But always your character should be facing some sort of opposition. That’s what keeps your reader reading–to find out if the hero will overcome the challenges and win!

If your story feels off-track or meandering, consider your character’s goal. You may have lost sight of it, or you may not be letting it drive your story.

Use Goal When Plotting

Now that you understand how your character’s goal shapes your plot, take advantage of it. Whenever I have ideas for a new story and I’m trying to come up with a plot, I start by asking myself what this character wants.

I used to create plots by stringing together scenes I thought were cool or exciting, with just the vague idea that in the end my hero would defeat the villain. This worked okay, but I ended up with a lot of unnecessary scenes, the story would wander, and the hero didn’t have a personal reason for saving the world (Really, he could have just saved himself all the trouble and stayed at home and let someone else do it!).

Starting off plotting with my character’s goal has helped me tremendously. It has made my plots clearer and tighter and has helped me to develop a plot much faster. This strategy may not work for everyone, but whether or not you start planning your story with your character’s goal you will definitely need to give it attention.

Do you know what your character’s goal is in your current story?

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How to Make Readers Care

how to make readers careWhy do readers read? What makes a story stick with them after they’ve turned the final page?

The secret lies in the characters. Sure the story might be interesting, but it’s the characters we connect with and experience it through.

They become our friends and we love to care about them. They make us laugh, cry, get angry, and fear for their well-being.

We keep reading a story because we care about the characters, and therefore care about what happens to them. If the reader doesn’t care about your characters, she won’t care to finish your novel. Which is not what you want!

So how do you make readers care about fictional people?

You engage their emotions.

“In order for a reader to connect with a story, he must feel that he has a stake in the character’s plight and must care about the outcome.” — from Emotion Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St. John

No matter how spectacular of a plot you have, your story will fall flat if your reader cannot connect with the characters on an emotional level. What keeps a reader turning the pages is the desire to find out what will happen to the characters that she cares about.

So how do you make a reader care about your character so that she will root for him/her to achieve his/her goal? You must make your characters sympathetic, relatable, likeable, flawed, and interesting. Let’s look at an example—Ana from Frozen.

Sympathetic

Straight away we see that Ana is isolated from her sister, whom she loves. When the girls’ parents die they are left alone. With no friends and a sister who won’t speak to her for reasons she doesn’t understand, Ana is lonely and desperate for love.

Likable

Ana has a fun personality—she’s bubbly, outgoing, and optimistic. She also has a strong love for her sister, even though Elsa has shut her out for so many years.

Note that not all characters have to be “nice” to be likable. For example, Katniss isn’t sociable or friendly, but she has positive qualities. Your character needs at least one positive quality to make readers like them, and you need to show it as early as possible.

Relatable

Ana is just like any girl—she loves chocolate and dreams of meeting “the one.” She’s also a bit of a dork.

Flawed

Ana isn’t perfect. She’s a little naive (you can’t marry a man you just met!) and she also tends to be clumsy and has a habit of babbling. She can also be a little over-confident at times. No one wants to read about a perfect character—perfect is boring! Ana’s flaws make her charming and realistic.

Interesting

Ana’s quirky personality makes her interesting and likable.

All of these qualities make us care about Ana. We want her to achieve her goal of bringing her sister Elsa home and repairing their relationship. We root for her along every step of the way.

Let’s look at another example.

Let’s say you’re reading a story about a Halloween party. Turns out there’s a real vampire in the room, and it murders a young woman. Interesting, exciting maybe, but other than that you’re indifferent about the situation because you don’t know the woman.

Let’s say beforehand you were shown that the woman is a single mother of two small children. She recently divorced her abusive husband and her girlfriends have talked her into going out with them tonight. Then she is murdered. Now some feelings might be stirred.

Think back to the last book you didn’t like. For me, it was The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Why didn’t you like the book?

I’m willing to bet you had an issue with the characters. The concept for The Maze Runner was interesting, but the characters were flat and I couldn’t connect with them emotionally. I didn’t care about them, so I didn’t care about what happened to them and I skimmed.

Conflict will not matter if the reader doesn’t care about your characters. So take the time to flesh out your characters, give them personalities, strengths, flaws, interests, and pasts so that your reader will connect with them and care about their fate.

What characters do you care about in books you’ve read? What makes you care about them?

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How to Write from a Girl’s POV

 

How to Write from a Girl's POV | Writing from the #POV of the opposite gender can be challenging. Here are some tips for guys for writing female characters! Earlier this week we looked at How to Write From a Guy’s point of view. This time, we’re going to explore how to write from a girl’s point of view.

Fellas, I’m going to try to help you out the best I can here. I know a lot of you are confused by us females and the thought of getting into a girl’s head to write a story from her perspective might be kind of scary.

But I’m going to try to help you understand us girls a little better, and give you pointers for writing convincing female characters.

Now, into the fray!

Person First, Girl Second

To help take some of the pressure off, remember that a girl is a person just like a guy. Be sure to write a person first and a girl second. Sure we may see some things differently, but we’re connected by the human experience—we’ve all experienced pain, loss, joy, fear, excitement, etc.

Though sometimes it may seem like we come from another planet, girls are human too! 😉

Avoid Gender Stereotypes

Not all girls are good at cooking, wear makeup, love fashion, freak out over bugs, obsesses over their weight, cry at sappy movies, suck at math or science, are clueless about cars, can’t use power tools, are helpless damsels in distress…shall I continue?

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a girl character be any of these things. Just be aware of the stereotypes and add more to her character than a labeled identity. Which brings me to my next point…

Create a Character with Depth

Give your heroine more than a pretty face–develop her character and personality. What was her childhood like? What’s her worst fear? Her dreams for the future? What does she like and dislike? What are her talents? Her interests? Make her more than the hero’s love interest or a damsel for him to save.

And please don’t make her impossible, super-model gorgeous. You know how you hate when female authors do this with their male characters? Yeah, we don’t like it either when the tables are flipped. We want a female character we can relate to. And unattainable beauty is not relateable.

Some Things for Guys to Consider About Girls…

**DISCLAIMER: Girls are unique individuals just like guys. Not all of these will apply to every girl, just like some things (like being athletic or good at math) don’t apply to all guys. So get to know your character first.**

Emotions

I know there’s probably nothing more terrifying than girls and their emotions 😉 We can’t help it; we tend to be more emotionally driven like guys tend to be more physically driven. We crave an emotional connection and intimacy, which is why girls value friendships so much.

Girls like to talk about their feelings–it’s how we deal with them. Most of us are more comfortable with letting our emotions show than guys. We want to be understood, and we want to share our innermost selves with you. It’s how we make a connection and deepen a friendship or relationship.

Girl Talk

Girls love to talk. We gossip, we talk about boys, we have heart-to-hearts, and we share the dumbest little details like what we ate that day. To us, talking is how we get to know a person and form a bond with them. Guys bond through physical roughhousing and sports, girls bond through talking and sharing emotions.

For us, silence can be uncomfortable. Why aren’t you talking to me? Is something wrong? Are you mad? Did I do something? For a girl, silence might signal a rift in the bond.

Girls also aren’t as direct as guys–we don’t always come out and say what we’re thinking. Which is why if a girl snaps at you that she’s “fine” you should assume she’s anything but.

And by the way, if there is a cute guy in the room you had better bet if we are with our girl friends we will probably whisper and giggle about him and point him out to each other if we can get away with it without being caught.

Over-thinking

Girls have a lot of stuff going on in their brains. When a guy tells me sometimes he can simply think about “nothing,” I can’t comprehend that. My head is always full, my thoughts are always darting from one thing to the next.

Picture an internet browser with 20 tabs open. Yep, that’s the female mind.

But not only do we think about a lot of stuff, we also tend to over-think anything and everything. From what we should wear today, what color we should dye our hair, what book we should buy, to…does he like me?

I don’t think there’s anything girls over-analyze more than a guy’s behavior.

If we like a guy, we will look for any excuse to give us hope that me might like us back. Even if that means making excuses for his words and actions or interpreting them the way we want to hear/see them.

Traveling in Packs

So this completely bewilders guys. Why do girls always go to the bathroom together? Why are they always traveling in packs? Sometimes, girls don’t even understand it themselves.

But basically, it’s not just a social comfort thing  and our need for friendship, it’s also a safety thing (even if we aren’t aware of it). This is hard for a guy to understand, but sometimes being a girl feels like being prey. Guys “hunt” and “chase” us…and unfortunately sometimes even stalk us.

Girls have to be more careful than guys because as much as I hate to say it, I know for me at least there is that fear in the back of your mind of being attacked and raped. Now of course I don’t think about this all the time, but there are certain situations when I become very cautious.

For example, when I have a night class I don’t walk out to my car alone. Girls are taught to stick together, use the buddy system, avoid dark alleys, don’t go running at night, don’t walk alone at night. We carry mace or walk to our cars with our keys threaded between our fingers as weapons.

We’re also discouraged from traveling alone. As a girl who wants to see the world, this really gets under my skin. I hate feeling limited because of my gender. In fact, it pisses me off. But I have to face the facts: I have to be careful because a guy is physically stronger than me. If he wants to hurt me, I’m at a disadvantage.

So basically, try to understand the vulnerability girls may sometimes feel.

Other Tips

Talk to the girls in your life and don’t be afraid to ask them questions! Observe us, watch some chick-flicks, try to get into our minds. I’ve also created a free guide to male vs. female body language to help you understand communication differences. You can get the guide (plus access to all my free worksheets), by clicking the button below!

Also, read books from the POV of female characters. That will help you to get a feel for writing female characters more than anything! (I’d also recommend The Fault in Our Stars by John Green–he writes the female character very well.)

And be patient. It may take practice and time for you to feel comfortable writing another gender. And if you still have doubts, have a girl read your story. She will be able to point out any faults and you will be able to learn from your mistakes.

Any other questions about writing female characters? Post them below!
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