How to Win Fans and Influence Writers, pt. 1: Writing Real Characters

I admit– I am a terrible blogger. I’m not very good at writing a review or a post due within twenty-four hours, which is probably why I’d fail in journalism. (Thank the good Lord above for small miracles!) So, I humbly and profusely apologize for my absence.

But I am good at one thing, though, when it comes to writing, and that is writing a novel. As I am typing this blog, I have just finished proofreading my first book. I started this project back in college about ten years ago; since then, I’ve written three completed manuscripts, one partially completed manuscript, and a total of six storylines, although the last three are subject to reconstruction. I personally say that’s quite an accomplishment, considering I was just a full-time nineteen-year-old college student with no creative writing background.

And, so, I would like to share with you some tips on writing… or at least for this blog, writing the perfect characters. I’ve been to two writing workshops in the last three years, both of which shed light on this subject, and while they were nothing new to me, they might be for you.

In my opinion, the only way and best way to write a character (or characters) is to be in that character’s shoes, even if it means using yourself as a template for that character. Now, I’m not talking about creating an exact replica of yourself but on paper and in words; I’m talking about drawing from personal experiences and infusing them with your character. The character should have, first and foremost, a story to share with the reader, and the more realistic and personal the story is, the more likely the reader will grow an attachment for that character. But we can’t forget personality, feelings, and at least one quirky trait either, all of which are great for character creation. Yet, if a character has a story to which the reader can relate, the character will be twice as real to the reader’s mind. As one author suggested at these workshops, you have to make your character(s) memorable if you want to be a successful writer. If your character seems fake or two-dimensional, your book probably won’t sell.

Secondly, do your research and know your character(s). Study them, find out what makes them tick–both in a good way and a bad way. If you’re not basing a character off of you, I suggest you practice the art of ethnography, the study or observation of people. Yes, I’m talking about “people watching”, and, no, Facebook stalking doesn’t count. You need to be out in public, preferably with a close friend or two, and casually watch the people around you. If you must, jot down your observations on a small piece of notebook paper. I suggest doing this at the mall or somewhere crowded where people are less likely to be weirded out if they catch you staring at them for a long time. (You might also want to pretend that you’re having a good time chatting with your friend(s) over a latte or a cookie, but don’t forget why you’re hanging around on a bench outside of, say, Hot Topic. It’s best to blend in with the crowd.) Also, if your character is not from your native country, you better get familiar with your character’s country of origin fast. The last thing you want to do is to turn off your readers by your ignorance of foreign customs and incorporating yours in a country where, for example, Fourth of July is just another business day because, obviously, it’s an American holiday.

Exhibit A: I chose to use my personal story for Rizu Hikarino (a.k.a. Tamashii) in my novel Angelic Guardians: The Gathering because, one, it was unique given in an age where most strong female characters are not necessarily the underdogs and typically get what they want, and, two, the timeline of events in the book occurred during a period in my life that I could vividly recall. I mean how could I write a character who attends university if I hadn’t been to university myself? How would I know the job description of a concession stand worker if I had never been one? Wikipedia is great for research–don’t get me wrong, but there are times when hands-on life experience is necessary.

Lastly, consider the other characters–are they diverse, or are they just like the main character in every sense? There are going to be some readers who will relate better with another character, so try to avoid redundancy. Bring a variety of personalities to the table, and let those personalities contribute to your story with their own. Friends, family, coworkers… even complete strangers in your life make good templates!

If you are in the beginning stages of writing your first story, I hope this entry has helped you. Even though it may appear to come easy, writing is a difficult process. But it’s worth the (proverbial) blood, sweat, and tears… or, in this case, the burnt midnight oil, lack of sleep, and frequent trips to the local coffeehouse/Starbucks.

The next entry for this theme will be my personal favorite topic, as I have dealt with it far too often: writer’s block and how to tackle it.


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