Author Tom Pawlik examines character development by explaining the 9 ingredients behind great literary characters.
WHAT IS A CHARACTER-DRIVEN NOVEL ANYWAY?
I don’t write character-driven novels. Heck, I’m not even sure what the term means. I used to think it was when an author spent hundreds of pages muddling around inside a character’s head just to fill the gaps between a couple paragraphs of action.
I prefer to write plot-driven suspense thrillers. But how does the low-brow thriller writer create good characters? I’m still a novice on the subject so this is by no means a definitive exposition, just 9 ingredients I jotted down to make a clever acrostic: CHARACTER.
(Look here for a list of thriller agents.)
1. Communication style: How does your character talk? Does she favor certain words or phrases that make her distinct and interesting? What about the sound of her voice? Much of our personality comes through our speech, so think about the way your character is going to talk. Her style of communication should be distinctive and unique.
2. History: Where does your character come from? Think out his childhood and adolescence. What events shaped his personality? What did his father do for a living? How about his mother? How many siblings does he have? Was it a loving family or an abusive, dysfunctional one? What events led him to the career choices he made? You may not need to provide all this background to your reader, but it’s good to know as the writer. It helps give him substance in your mind as well.
3. Appearance: What does she look like? This may be the least important ingredient to make your character a person to the reader, but you should still know it in your own mind. Not every character needs to be drop-dead gorgeous, by the way. Most people aren’t.
4. Relationships: What kind of friends and family does he have? How does he relate to them? Is he very social or reclusive, or somewhere in between? People can be defined by the company they keep, so this can be a good way to define your character.
5. Ambition: Just as this is the central letter of the acrostic, so too this concept is absolutely central to your character and plot. What is her passion in life? What goal is she trying to accomplish through your story? What is her unrecognized, internal need and how will she meet it?
6. Character defect: Everyone has some personality trait that irritates his friends or family. Is he too self-centered? Too competitive? Too lazy? Too compliant? Too demanding of others? Don’t go overboard on this. After all, you want your reader to like the character. But he’ll feel more real if he has some flaw. This is usually connected to his unrecognized need (see Ambition) and often gets resolved through his character arch.
7. Thoughts: What kind of internal dialogue does your character have? How does she think through her problems and dilemmas? Is her internal voice the same as her external? If not, does this create internal conflict for her? In real life we don’t have the benefit of knowing someone’s innermost thoughts, but a novel allows us to do just that, so use it to your advantage.
8. Everyman-ness: How relatable is your character? While James Bond is fun to watch on screen, most of us aren’t uber-trained special agent-assassins so it’s a little hard to relate to him on a personal level. On the other hand, Kurt Russell’s character in the movie Breakdown was far more ordinary and relatable, creating a more visceral experience. Be careful not to make your character too elite or he may be too difficult to live vicariously through. And that, after all, is the key to suspense.
9. Restrictions: More than a personality flaw, what physical or mental weakness must your character overcome through her arch? After all, even Superman had Kryptonite. This helps humanize your character, making her more sympathetic and relatable.
The goal is to make your readers feel something for your character. The more they care about them, the more emotion they’ll invest in your story. And maybe that’s the secret.
Maybe every novel is character-driven after all.
Okay, first, remember that a kiss is much, much more than just lips. It is lips, but also tongues, teeth, eyes, faces, hands, noses, bodies, heartbeats, breath, voice- and most importantly, a kiss is emotions. A kiss without emotion is just wet mushy lips stuck together. Ew. Gross. The most important part of a kiss isn’t the how, but the who- because of the emotions between the two people.
lips- Lips can slide, glide over each other smoothly, or they can be chapped and rough and dry and get stuck on each other. They can match, top-to-top and bottom-to-bottom, or they can overlap, with one person’s top or bottom lip captured between the other person’s lips (yummy). If there is lipstick or chapstick there is lipstick or chapstick flavor, otherwise, lips don’t have a taste (can you taste yours?). Lips also can smack- the sound of two of them coming together or pulling apart, because they’re wet and warm and soft.
tongue- Tongues are always wet, and always warm. They’re very versatile. They can trace over lips, teeth, or another tongue. They can be smooth and graceful or teasing and flicking. When tongues are involved, there is drool. It’s only sexy when you like the person you’re kissing, or else it’s kinda gross. :P
teeth- teeth can clack together awkwardly, or teeth can bite down sensually. A person biting their own lip is cute, a person biting another’s lips is sexy. A person biting gently is sensual, a person biting roughly is sexual.
eyes- Eyes can be wide open with surprise, half-lidded with desire, fully closed with pleasure. Eyes can gaze lovingly, lustfully, wistfully, hungrily, seductively- it all depends upon the emotions of your characters. Have them do whatever you like, but don’t leave them out- give them at least a mention!
faces- Faces are what the lips are attached to. Noses bump, cheeks flush, ears turn red, foreheads either wrinkle or relax. Kisses can leave lips, quite easily, and become kisses on chins, cheeks, noses, foreheads, ears, necks, throats. Kisses on noses or foreheads are cute and adorable, kisses on cheeks are sweet, kisses on chins, ears, and throats are very sexual. And a kiss on the lips can be all of those! <3
hands- Hands are super-important. In order to describe a kiss, usually you want to also describe the hands. Where are they? Does one character have their hand behind the other’s head or back, holding them close? Are they on someone’s shoulders pulling them near, or pushing them away? Fingers brushing someone’s cheek or palms grabbing someone’s ass convey two very different kinds of situations, even if the kiss itself is exactly the same.
noses- Noses are annoying. They easily get in the way, especially for first kisses! People have to tilt their head to one side or the other, and if they don’t, noses bump. I’d only mention noses if a kiss is supposed to be awkward or uncertain or nervous.
bodies- bodies are either close together, or far away. Someone can be surrounded comfortingly by someone’s arms, or terrifyingly trapped by them. Bodies are warm or hot, they are calm or nervous, relaxed or tense. Body language says a lot. Is your character pulling away, or moving closer?
heartbeat- Hearts can beat fast or slow, and that’s about all they can do- but there are lots of reasons why they do! A heart can beat fast with fear or excitement or nervousness; a heart can pound with lust or race with terror or sing with joy. Hearts can glow, cower, or shatter. When you really want to drive the emotions of a character home, mention the heart.
breath- To me, the most consuming part of a kiss is the breath. The air that someone else has just breathed going deep into your lungs is very intimate. Lips and tongues don’t have a taste, but breath does. Each person’s breath tastes different, smells different, and surrounds a person differently than anyone else’s breath. Breath can be warm and sweet, breath can be hot and sexy, breath can be hot and frightening. It is something that is very present and should not be left out. A lot of writers leave breath out. And it’s so important; it’s the most intimate part of a kiss. Someone else is breathing into your lungs, and it’s either heaven or it’s hell.
voice- Voice conveys much, even without words. A voice can groan, whimper, gasp, moan, catch, whine, scream, sigh. Voice can convey emotion powerfully, and while some kisses are silent, usually they’re not.
emotion- Emotion is the most important- and the thing you try not to say. You want to describe it, through all of the things above, so that it’s perfectly clear what your characters are feeling, without you ever using the “feelings words”. If they’re in love, their bodies will lean close, their eyes will smile, their voices will giggle softly. If they’re nervous, their palms will sweat, their noses will bump, their voices will shudder. If they’re afraid, their muscles will be tense, their faces will grimace, their lips will not open. Emotion is the color that you keep inside your mind as you write; it’s the base line that drives the description behind everything else you say.
Wow, that was a lot! Gosh I hope it wasn’t too much! Keep in mind not every kiss has all these things- this is just a list of things to consider when writing a kiss, and based on how long of a kiss you want to make. Keep in mind that typing “they kissed for a long time”…that’s six words, it takes half a second to read, so that’s a short kiss! If you want a long kiss, you need long sentences that make the reader linger.
So maybe to start off, pick three things on the list to describe in your first kiss. Don’t try to do it all- that would be too much for even the most epic kiss. Just pick what’s most important to this particular scene, to these particular characters, and describe those parts along with the lips, and you’ve got yourself an awesome, emotional kiss.
Jurassic Park Meme ∞ Favorite Scientist: Ian Malcolm"What’s so great about discovery? It’s a violent, penetrative act that scars what it explores. What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world. ".
- Accepting – too accepting; willing to excuse extreme behavior
- Adaptable – used to traveling from situation to situation; may not be able to fully adapt/live in a permanent situation
- Affable – accidentally befriends the wrong sort of people; pushes to befriend everyone
- Affectionate –inappropriate affection
- Alert – constantly on edge; paranoid
- Altruistic – self-destructive behavior for the sake of their Cause
- Apologetic – apologizes too much; is a doormat; guilt-ridden
- Aspiring – becomes very ambitious; ruthless in their attempts to reach goals
- Assertive – misunderstood as aggressive; actually aggressive; others react negatively when they take command all the time
- Athletic – joints weakened from exercise; performance-enhancing drug abuse; competitive
"Character Development Worksheet."
Describing a character’s body language can be very important and helps your story from being too “telly”. You end up showing your readers how your characters are feeling instead of constantly telling them what’s going on. For example, if someone’s face “burns bright red”, you know they’re either angry or embarrassed (or perhaps a combination of both). Depending on context, your readers can figure out how your character is reacting. Using these simple techniques can help improve your story and make it much more entertaining.
- A character that is over confident (possibly the antagonist) will most likely stand taller, put hands on his or her hips, or bark orders at others. The way they sit will also reveal a lot about their character. Their legs will probably be unfolded and they might sit up straighter to show dominance.
- Someone who is shy and closed off will slump his or her shoulders or wrap their arms around their legs if they are sitting. They will do anything to remain unnoticed, which will come across in their body language. Submissive people tend to smile a lot because they might not want to engage in conversation.
- Anger can be described through clenched teeth, reddening skin, heavy breathing, or crossing arms. If a character feels physically threatened, he or she might ball her fists as if ready for a fight.
- When people lie they tend to touch their face or avoid eye contact. They will try any physical action that might distract people from the fact that they are lying and it will often be subtle.
- I once read that when you’re attracted to someone or open to conversation with them, you’ll point your knees in their direction. Your knees will often face the person who you wish to talk to. If someone is not open to conversation or feels uncomfortable, they will turn their body away from the person to show they aren’t interested.
There are a lot of clues in everyday life as long as you pay attention to them. If you want to learn more about body language, all you have to do is analyze the people around you or even yourself. What do you do when you lie? How do people know when you’re happy? Take a look around and observe.