In Part 2 of Character Basics, we continue our look at the rest of the 10 essentials to follow for characters in fiction writing which should help a writer’s chances of making publication.
Numbers 6 – 10:-
6. Something that is set in stone where fiction writing is concerned is to make sure that your characters don’t ever share the same first names. This will lead to all manner of problems. This is common sense and one rule all writers should adhere to, yet some writers do still make this mistake.
7. It’s also wise to stick to character names throughout the story. It is not unknown for writers to get surnames wrong halfway through a novel and not even realise it, especially when dealing with multiple characters. For example a Hampton could accidentally turn into Huntington. Is Mr Johnston from chapter three the same as Mr Johnson in chapter nine? Ensure name consistency. If you don’t spot it, the editor will.
8. Never have a perfect character. They don’t exist. Just because your protagonist is the star of the show, it doesn’t make him or her:-
b) More intelligent than any other character in the story
c) The most beautiful/most handsome character
d) Suddenly able acquire skills from nowhere, such as hot wiring a car or breaking into a house with nothing more than a hair pin etc.
f) Resistant to emotional turmoil
Unlike the movies, where characters emerge from car crashes and explosions with their hair in place and barely a scratch, or they have the obligatory fight scene yet never seem to get hurt or show any pain when punched around the head and guts a few times, real life and life-changing events do have an impact. So show it.
Hair will be a mess, clothes end up torn. Make up will run. Wounds will hurt, and they will bleed, too. Muscles will ache, bruises will show and emotions will run wild.
The more real your characters are, the more easily they are accessible to the reader.
9. Make sure your character’s names fit their personalities. This might sound strange, but names need to feel comfortable both for the writer and the reader.
New writers tend to opt for weird, ‘trendy’ names thinking, wrongly, that it will impress editors. But often it does the opposite and irritates them instead.
For example, names like Ormsby Justinian or Selexxian Rivette might sound cool and on trend to the writer, but might not necessarily impress the editor or the reader. (The only time names should sound far out or strange is when writing sci-fi/fantasy, which is an accepted norm).
Conversely, a character called Ripper McCane sounds exciting, but it also sounds like a schoolboy creation that belongs in a 1940’s cartoon serial, and may not fit a character in present day surroundings.
Of course, that’s not to say your characters should be your boring John Smith or Mary Jones types. It’s a matter of choosing the kind of name that fits with the character.
Also bear in mind that non-English names should also be carefully considered for non-English characters. Research the names and make sure they are real and not ‘made up’.
10. That brings us to the final point. More often than not, weird names or ill-thought monikers happen because the writer has forgotten that readers must relate to the characters.
If readers don’t relate to your characters, they won’t relate to the story, and subsequently the story will fail. Your reader has more chance of identifying with Maxi Hudson than Charterrisse DuBurbonne. Or they will love Tony Leoni rather than Webster Trudant-Tasker III.
All it takes is common sense and a little thought.
But why bother? I don’t need help with my characters
Advice can be taken two ways: it can be accepted or rejected.
Writers who choose to follow advice stand a better chance of being published. Writers who carry on regardless might find out the hard way why they’re being rejected by agents and publishers.
The thing to remember is that fiction isn’t like the movies. You can make your characters perform superhuman feats and do extraordinary things, you can make them as perfect and as wonderful as you want, and you can have as many as you want in your story, but the simple cold truth is that editors will see right through basic errors and your manuscript will be rejected.
In truth, characters are not superhuman, they can’t do extraordinary things, they’re not wonderful and they are certainly not perfect. They’re ordinary people thrust in extraordinary circumstances.
It’s up to the writer to pay attention to the basics of character construction. Sometimes it can make a difference between acceptance or rejection.
Next week: Watching out for word repetition