Sunday, February 22, 2015

Some Thoughts About Characters in a Story

So I'm working on a revision for an MG (middle grade) fantasy. Ok, its not really a revision. I'm rewriting the whole thing. My agent, Adriann, wants me to focus on depth of character in this version. And I whole heartedly agree. The last book I wrote was a contemporary YA about a figure skater. I was able to really flesh out those characters because I've lived in the figure skating world for twenty plus years. And it wasn't until I received revision notes on the MG from my agent did I realize that I didn't come anywhere close to being as immersed in the world of my characters in this new story.

So I've been doing a ton of research. I'm practically stalking the NASA website, learning as much as I can about stars, watching YouTube videos on how to operate telescopes, watching ANCIENT ALIENS on Netflix, and I just finished reading a biography about Einstein. What a fascinating individual.

But research can be a daunting task because I'm coming across many ideas and concepts that will never make it into the actual story. But as I read and watch and learn I can feel the characters coming to life in my head. And as the characters deepen, the plot reveals itself.

In the past I always thought I had to map out the plot first and then install the characters (I was wrong). With the YA contemporary about the figure skater, even though I hadn't realized it at the time, I knew the characters as well as I knew myself and so the plot unfolded organically.

This past January I took part in Natalie Parker's Crit Camp and she said something that was a total light bulb moment for me. She said to imagine your story like a pyramid. The base of the pyramid, the foundation of the story are the characters. The middle section is world building and setting, and the top of the pyramid is the plot.

I've heard this before, but it was just the way Natalie said it, the way she diagrammed out, that really resonated with me. And it made me realize that all my favorite books are heavily character driven. The characters ARE the story. THE INFERNAL DEVICES. THE SCORPIO RACES. HARRY POTTER. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. THE RAVEN CYCLE. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE.
I fell in love with the characters first and foremost.

All these thoughts about character have been percolating in my brain since January and then I saw that J.K. Rowling tweeted this recently:

And it just makes sense! When I first started researching for the rewrite I have to admit that I felt like I wasn't being productive. In my mind productivity = word count. But, I've learned that spending some time to get to know your characters and researching what makes them tick can be just as productive and vitally important to the success of your story.

Happy Writing!


  1. I'm glad you had this lightbulb moment! Best of luck with your new draft.

    1. Thanks Ron! Best of luck with your own writing well :-)

  2. I've found if my plot is very detailed then I end up bending the characters to fit the plot. This is my least favorite type of writing, and I lose the enthusiasm of having an interesting character that constantly takes over the plot for me. Having your plot hijacked is another problem in itself, but it's definitely more fun.

    1. Yes! I love it when characters hijack the plot and my outline is left frowning in the dust.