Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Giving Your Character Knowledge

No two characters should be alike. All of them need to have goals, self-awareness and the ability to learn. Your characters need knowledge of their world and how they see it. Dwight Swain says, "Though contrived by a writer, a good--that is effective--character should appear to move under his own power. He needs to act without ostensible prodding from his creator... Your character's need to control destiny, to feel adequate to each developing situation, is what gives him his strength, his drive, his motive force: in a word his direction."

Your characters need direction and even more than that they need to feel passionate about something. This gives your characters dimension and fleshes them out so your readers find them believable. In fact, your readers might even see themselves in your characters. Donald Maass says, "...We read fiction not just to see ourselves, but also to imagine ourselves as we might be."

Isn't that so true?  Maass also added, "Characters in breakout fiction may seem realistic, even average, but they are bigger than their circumstances. They do not just suffer, but strive. They do not practice patience, but act. They do not merely survive, but endure. ...A great character is one that not only deepens our understanding of ourselves but that opens to us ranges of potential, a riot of passionate response to the problems of existence."

Wow! So give your characters knowledge, goals, self awareness and not only the ability to learn, but to teach by their actions.

This might be interesting...share something you've learned from characters you've read in a book.


  1. The quotes you used from Dwight Swain and Donald Maass has me curious about both these authors. Really great advise on how to flesh out character, and make the story interesting. I'm only drawn into stories that I see myself, or my world and its universal struggles. I have learned from so many it is hard to pin point to one character in particular. (But Anne's, of Anne of Green Gables, stength and determination, and love of writing does stand out for me!)

  2. Lynn: Dwight Swain wrote the book, Techniques of the Selling Author and Donald Maass wrote the book, Writing the Breakout Novel. Maass is also an agent. I should have referenced them better. Thanks for bringing it up. :0)

    Anne of Anne of Green Gables is a great character to learn from. She's a hero of mine and also my daughters.

  3. I'm always interested in the way certain characters make me feel when I read books. I find the things I read subliminally soak in.
    I'm reading a lot of YA books at the moment (since that's what I write.) And I've learnt that it's okay to have vulnerabilities and still be considered a strong person. You grow through experience.
    Great post.

  4. Such great thoughts. For me, I call this my character's motivation. If I don't know what it is, I really struggle with the plot and my character's reactions to things. Once I have their motivation pinned down, I can fly.

  5. Very insightful, Lindsay. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I like that despite vulnerabilties our characters can still be strong.

  6. Elana, yep motivation works, too. Once a writer gets the motivation behind their characters established it's smooth sailing. Thanks for stopping by. :0)



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