February 22, 2010


Characters are the first and most important ingredient of a well-developed story.

"Story is what happens to people," according to James V. Smith Jr. in "The Writer's Little Helper."

"Except for a few best-selling authors whose action and plot ideas are killer, action and plot ideas don't count for much if the characters are cardboard cutouts," Smith writes. "No amount of special effects can rescue a film tale with boring characters."

This explanation makes sense to me. As a reader, the books I like best are the ones where I develop a bond with the characters. I come to think of the character as a friend and feel like I know him or her.

This also comes into play when I consider the story I might like to tell. I see the main character or characters and think about what he or she will be like. What happened to them before the story? What will happen to them during the story? What will play out for them after the story ends? What traits does this person have that brings about the outcome?

Smith poses the following questions as the "Minimum character elements for any story." Does my story have:
• A truly heroic character?
• A heroic character's worth goal quest?
• The heroic character's worthy adversary?
• Action and conflict involving the heroic character's quest?
• A perceived ending?

(Read more about this development in "The Writer's Little Helper" pages 22-25. The book is a great resource and you will hear me quote it more in the future.)

Taking Smith's advice to have well-developed characters, for the next few posts, I will examine what it will take to create characters worth reading about. Stay tuned.

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