Writing Tips: Developing Your Characters and Story
Question: What makes a story stand out for you? What makes you want to read past the first page? The first chapter? The first book? Or if you are watching shows on your favourite streaming service, what makes you want to forget about all else and binge?
I like crime shows, mostly not-so-real crime such as “Midsomer Murders”, “True Detective” and quirky ones like “Fargo”. Yeah, I could go on, see what I mean? I’ve been bingeing.
You might think, strange for a Sci-Fi (Indie) author. Not surprising, then, I’ve considered doing the reverse of John Wyndham and move genre from Sci-Fi to Crime Fiction. We’ll see…Meanwhile, there’s my travels with the T-Team and the latest the T-Team with Mr. B to look forward to. Funny about that story, Elsie King read it and gave feedback. She suggested the character of Mr. B would fit well into a murder mystery. After initially rejecting the idea, I started working on a character who possessed some of Mr. B’s endearing personality and behaviours in a draft for a future murder mystery.
Anyway, the thing about successful crime shows is how they engage the audience to know the people involved, the characters. The key to the crime (or any genre for that matter) is what the characters want, what they really want, influences their actions, that, in time, lead to tragic consequences. For example, a woman who wants, more than anything else, wealth and security, commits fraud and murder to fulfil her desires.
The question, what your character wants, applies to any story, novel in any genre you write. In one of my recent posts (Choice Bites–Minna) on my website Tru-Kling Creations, Mission of the Unwilling heroine, Minna, in her encounter with Boris came out of an exercise to get to know my characters and what they want most.
Understanding your character’s history helps the reader invest in your character and want to know them more. Whether they are good, like Minna, or an evil antagonist like Boris, exploring your character’s bio, and giving the reader a taste of their history, engages the reader in your character’s life-journey.
Again, the Boris story evolved for me as I delved into the murky depths of Boris’ life; how this alien cockroach as a power-hungry despot destroyed his own world through greed, and then sought to dominate all worlds in the galaxy in the quest to rebuild his empire. I also investigated why he singled out Earth and took revenge on her people.
Then one sunny day, as I sat on my back patio, I made a study of my characters; their personalities, backgrounds, and interactions with each other…and by the end of the afternoon, The Hitch-hiker evolved.
Novels are about people—characters. Stuck with your novel’s progress? Writer’s block? Spend an afternoon developing your characters; interview them, find out what their interests are, their birthdate, parents, likes, dislikes, and what they want most. Soon you’ll have them all sitting at a table in a restaurant, discussing, or arguing with each other. You’ll see their story-lines weave in and out like a tapestry. Conflicts will arise, resolutions made with a twist, and villains and heroes will leap out from your computer screen, or page.
Our novels, our stories are life, and life is people. The reality is no one is an island. Even a convict in solitary confinement had parents, had a journey, a reason he ended up in solitary, and people who put him there.
So, getting back to the question, “What makes a story stand out for you?” Here’s the take-away—even simple entertainment, the characters are the key. Get to know your characters, and they will give you a story.
Begin by asking your character: What do you want most in life?
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016; updated 2022
Jetty Boys © M.E. Trudinger circa 1958