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You've Known Interesting Characters all Your Life: Put Them to Work in Your Novel

Or how to not Bore your Reader into a Coma.


I'll bet everyone can do it. Pick out someone who is genuinely interesting, has led an inspiring life, has really funny things to say, and generally makes you glad to be around them. Strangely, I have even had a few positive phrases thrown my direction. A must have at a party, corny jokes, it must be the delivery, hey, whatever had that guy who used to whistle through his ears? Some people, the good ones are humble about it, seem to live large and project that to others.


This guy comes to mind...




Einstein wasn't just a brilliant, ahead of his time, paradigm breaking...he was interesting. How many other theoretical physicists can you name from the early 20th century? Or...ever?

I doubt that he ever put any thought into his appearance beyond being able to function in his world, that is until he realized the leverage it gave him. So likely without a whit of thought, he was so interesting that people who know nothing about physics (me) still talk about him a century after relativity.


In my book, the Time Fixers, the dual protagonists were physicists. With all the brilliant people in the field out there today (I like to read about it, even if I don't understand it) I mentioned only one person. Could he have changed the world as he did without being interesting? That is a subject for debate.


Pivotal Characters in Literature...and Their Impact.


So we know interesting when we see it. Now lets look at literary classics, particularly the ones that made a positive social impact. Let's start with Prince Hamlet, of course of Shakespeare's Hamlet. This is not someone you'd want to know personally, or at all. But even with having to wade through the archaic language, somehow you can't get enough. Why? Well....interesting. Nuts, but interesting.


Jane Eyre, of Bronte's novel of the same name, is described as 'poor, obscure, plain, and little.' She is also incredibly intelligent and steadfast in her principles. That makes a story which, on the surface, wouldn't hold much interest (for me at least), into an incredible find as she battles her circumstances. And other characters who are boorish and reprehensible.


Colloquially called, A Christmas Carrol, the novella by Dickens has enough interesting characters for a long saga. But what puts it over the top and drives the point home, is the little lame Tiny Tim Cratchit. We see the characters all going about their business in a really ugly (to me) historical period in which even the rich life doesn't look like much. But it's Tiny Tim, the innocent yet optimistic young lad with no chance at all who drives the point home. And although I didn't know it until recently, was the driving force in vastly increased social awareness and charitable giving when the work came out. Not bad for a novella.


That is impact anyone would love for their legacy.


Can anyone think of a more impactful book than Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin? Maybe, that's OK too, we're all creative types here. Of all the wonderful and despicable characters in the book, its Eliza Harris that drives the point home for me. She was out of this world courageous in escaping the hell hole world she knew when many of us might have knuckled under. She, to me, brings home the horrific and evil effects of slavery like no other. And she helped a generation see the light, and helped prepare them for the battle ahead.


That's great Mike, but I'm not writing a landmark classic filled with historical characters.


True enough for me as well. There is much to be said for slice of life, or incredible events erupting in the suburbs. But you get the idea. And I maintain that nearly everyone who sits at their computer has a point to make. And you see the impact interesting characters have. As I said earlier, nearly everyone can identify interesting people in their lives. What I've done, is take examples of those people I've known, change the identities, combine traits, and convert them into characters in my books. Strictly speaking, there is only coincidental resemblance to any person living or otherwise, as it says in the disclaimer. Because they never existed...but their traits did.


Maybe a good way to define the process is to think of uninteresting people you've known. I've always thought it curious that people can more easily identify negative characteristics in people than positive. Probably goes back to when we were coming out of the trees, and weren't supposed to look for the good in someone who may clunk us over the head and steal our meager food supply. So, compare and contrast. Go back to your tablet (electronic or paper, I recommend paper, so much more impressive with all the erasures and squiggles) and sketch it out. Interesting, uninteresting. By doing this, you'll begin to discover something that is right in front of us, but that we rarely recognize.


Now You're Developing Insight!


Previously, we'd talked about setting up a template for your story. If you'd ever done project management or organized on some level, that may come naturally to you. Characters are different. I was lucky. My muses came to me in dreams and told me stories about incredible adventurers who they urged me to write about. Its OK. I don't have enough money to make it worth my family's time to have me locked up.


Now on the one hand, you have your story outlined. On the other, you are creating a list of interesting attributes to load into characters. I should mention here, don't forget about the uninteresting ones. Overcoming legions of the dull makes a good fight for a protagonist. Here is your assignment. Play around with names, faces, images, and attributes. Its OK to have too many, in fact its a good thing at this point. You're going to pare it down, and you may just find that one of your characters would be a great fit...in your next book!


Its a different world folks, one that you are creating! You'll think differently, creatively. Be proud of that!


The invitation is still open folks. Come to my webpage, and let's talk about where you are, what questions you have, what works for you. My favorite classes to teach are those with open dialogue where I learn something too!


Next Week: Putting your characters to work.


*Sigh... That was my intention this week, but the subject is too big. A lot like me planning to do the landscaping, paint the deck, work on my writing, drink beer...etc, all in a weekend.

This blogging is a new chapter :o)> for me, I'll get better and we'll get there.


Come to think of it...the only thing I always accomplish is the drinking beer part.


Next week!








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