Stuck? It’s not you, it’s your character!

Traits

When I start writing something new, whether it’s a new story or the first chapter for a new character, I occasionally find myself not fully getting into the writing. Usually, it’s a case of going back and doing a little more plotting, character development or just taking a break to collect my thoughts. On rare occasions, though, I realise what the real problem is… the character.

I ran into this problem recently, in fact. I had two main characters that I was intending to use to tell the story. They were both fully formed in my mind and I felt that I knew all about them and knew how they would speak, react and live. The only thing was, one of the characters didn’t seem right. I felt like I was writing a sub-plot (and not a very interesting one). I thought about ways to change this character’s story around and make them more interesting to follow. In the end, nothing worked. I knew that this character needed to be in the story, but he just wasn’t a viewpoint character.

So, I took another character that I had been developing and explored him in more detail. He was a little older, grittier, more bitter and had something to prove to the world. Now this was the kind of character that I could really do something with. What’s more, he was the opposite of my other viewpoint character and I could already see conflict emerging between them.

I can’t give you any concrete advice on spotting whether your character might be wrong. It’s instinct, really. Try writing a chapter with that character and see how it flows. Read it back to yourself and see if you like the character and believe their motives. If not, strip it back down and try another tack. When you’ve exhausted all possible ways of salvaging the character, then you can start thinking about a new character. Don’t just throw characters away straight off the bat, though. They need development and time to grow in your mind. If you’re struggling to come up with characters who excite you, try thinking of a negative trait and a positive one and then amplifying them for the purposes of your character. Conflicting traits are present in real people and they provide great inner conflict for your story.

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3 thoughts on “Stuck? It’s not you, it’s your character!

  1. thebrightoldoak 09-May-2012 / 12:16

    I don’t mean to sound criticising, but how can you not love your own character?
    My advice would be to stick to that one character you’d want to remove from the plot or find uninteresting. You’ll see they can give you more than you have ever thought! 😉

    • Cirias 09-May-2012 / 12:57

      That’s a fair comment. I think it does take a while to end up feeling that a character doesn’t quite work. I agree that it’s often best to work on the character and smooth out the problems with them, rather than just dumping them right away. As I said, I think my particular problem was approaching the story from the wrong angle to begin with. I have a cast of central characters and ended up choosing the wrong one to take the reader into the world.

      • thebrightoldoak 09-May-2012 / 16:14

        I guess every writer has their own process of working through the plot. i do the opposite! I start with one character and have others coming to join but keep focus on the first one. Although I like to keep things vague, like in my novel. I mean, I’ve got two characters and one seems to be the lead, but never say never! x

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