People are adorable. Infuriating. Comforting. Reassuring. Companionable. Seductive. Inspiring. Appalling. Frightening. Unforgettable.
If you're a novelist, people are the magic. Period.
Think about a book you loved. No don't ponder for very long, just give me a first impression. I'll bet my own weight in Harry Potter or Lee Child novels that it was a character.
Maybe two characters. Maybe a group of friends, a family. A pair of lovers. A man and his sworn enemy. A kestrel.
Of course you'll also remember the story too, and the world, and something clever and wonderful with themes. But what mattered more than anything was the people who took you there.
What they did. Who they hurt and who they protected. How they surprised themselves and each other. How they talked, lived, swore, hated, messed up. How they gripped your heart for page after page. How they kicked the hornet's nest or watched from the train.
It's much the same in real life. In real life, you might not take much notice of a political or world issue – until it hits someone you're connected to.
From left field, an abstract idea becomes a battleground of your hopes and fears.
People are the bridge.
And that's why the secret of writing an addictive, unforgettable story is down to …. the characters.
Get your characters right and the reader will devour your plot details, squirm when you twist the knife.
And therein lies the challenge. As an editor and writing coach I've seen where this goes wrong. Getting a reader's interest and empathy is a finely judged thing.
Characters might be heartbreaking or too limp and vulnerable. Heroic or too sugary good. Smart and sharp or snipy and sour.
Getting readers to hate your bad guys is tricky too. Villains might be ridiculous or the wrong side of raving.
And away from your starring roles, any characters might be stereotypes or cardboard cut-outs.
There's a skill to writing people who ring true, pull our heartstrings, freeze our blood. Really good authors know how to pull this illusion. They can turn prose into people who are as real as anybody you sat up all night with, went through fire with, travelled your whole life with. Or divorced.
What's more, when you crack it, your characters will be so real and nuanced that you'll want to tell stories about them. They'll start to surprise you. Frighten you, inspire you. keep you up late while you write it all down.
Which is rather adorable.
Get your people real and you'll have readers eating out of your hand.
About Roz Morris
Look on your bookshelves. Look on those of your friends.
You might have one of Roz Morris's books and not realise.
She's the secret hand behind nearly a dozen bestselling ghostwritten novels with sales topping 4 million copies.
Less secretly, she's the author of the Nail Your Novel series for writers and two acclaimed novels My Memories of a Future Life and Lifeform Three (longlisted for the World Fantasy Award and currently up for the People's Book Prize).
She also wears a teacher hat and has mentored authors to prizewinning standard.
She coaches ghostwriters too with her professional-level online course.
Check out Roz's book:
Troubleshooting your fictional characters? Inventing a new person for your novel? This on-the-go checklist will help you hit the ground running.
More than 100 master tips from an expert editor, fiction ghostwriter and writing coach whose sales exceed 4 million copies.
‘Nail Your Novel is like a personal session with a writing mentor.'
What makes a reader fall in love with your book? Whether you write a story-based genre or literary fiction, it’s the characters.
So how do you create fictional people who’ll keep readers hooked? How do you make them plausible, chilling, imperfect, lovable, intriguing, tormented or misunderstood?
What if their lives are totally unlike your own? How do you write the opposite sex, historical characters, enigmatic characters who give little away? Villains?
This book is a super-zipped digest of tips for creating irresistible characters, extracted from the tutorials in Writing Characters to Keep Readers Captivated (Nail Your Novel 2).
Use them as a handy checklist to create and deepen your fictional people, a guide for self-editing, or a prompt for discussion in your writing group.
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