Effective January 2014, the Blog-Zine is cosed to new posts and is going dark. The blog and its archives will stay "up," though, so please feel free to peruse the archives and discover all of the great books, authors, articles, and other features that have joined me here over the years. Thanks to all who helped make my Blog-Zine adventure a raging success! Read on!
05 November, 2012
How to Write Kick-Ass Characters by author Naomi Rabinowitz
Read on to discover the tips that Naomi Rabinowitz used to help her write the kick-ass characters in Revenge of a Band Geek Gone Bad...
From 1998-2012, I wrote for Soap Opera Digest magazine. One of my many responsibilities was to review the shows, and one of my most frequent critiques had to do with how various characters were written. Soaps often introduce new personalities in the hope that a character will catch on like ALL MY CHILDREN's Erica Kane or GENERAL HOSPITAL's Sonny Corinthos. Unfortunately, most failed because said characters were either written too broadly (He's a jewel thief! He's a pilot! He's a hero! He's a villain!) or didn't have enough depth (She's pretty and loves him. And...?).
On the other hand, great characters have clearly-defined personalities and goals -- and are also far from perfect. Take AMC's Erica, for example. When you think of her, you think of someone who wanted to be rich and successful, and wanted to find love. That defined Erica, but what also made her fascinating was that she was basically a good person who was very flawed. She could get any man she wanted, but went through husbands at record speed. She was a model, author, and talk show host, but she constantly made mistakes and fought with her children. She wasn't perfect, but she was interesting.
When writing my own novel, Revenge of a Band Geek Gone Bad, I thought back to what worked and what didn't work with soap opera characters and tried to follow the same guidelines in my writing. I wanted my narrator, Melinda, and her love interest, Josh, to be strong both independently and as a team. Moreover, I didn't want the entire story to be about their romance. Both have passions and relationships outside of the other and both have clearly defined goals. Plus, both can stand on his or her own. So far, the feedback that I'm getting from readers is that they seem like real people, so I think I did my job!
That said, here are some tips that I use for writing memorable characters:
1. Before writing a word, have your characters in place. Know them as well as you know yourself. A great way to do this is to make up a back-story for each of them, even the minor personalities. What would Character A have for breakfast? Watch on TV? Say to her best friend? Most of these details won't make it into your story, but the better you allow yourself to know your characters, the better you'll be able to write about them. If you start with figuring out the mundane details, like what type of clothing someone wears, you'll eventually be able to answer the bigger questions like why she loves a certain person or why she isn't able to forgive her mother. Sometimes characters will "write themselves" in ways that you didn't expect, but your back-story will help you keep up!
2. Keep your characters consistent. I'm not saying that they should never grow and change; how boring would that be?! But don't give readers whiplash, either. Make the changes organic. For instance, if you're writing a villain, don't suddenly turn him into a hero. Show readers the process by which he becomes the good guy.
3. Clearly define your characters. Make their motivations and actions clear. In Revenge of a Band Geek Gone Bad, for example, Melinda is shy, loves music, wants to be first chair flute, and likes Josh. There's much more to her, of course, but the basics of Melinda can be summed up in a sentence. You don't want to write wishy-washy characters. You also want to be able to tell each character apart without attribution. Which leads to...
4. Find your characters' unique voices. How does your character talk? Does she or he have any quirks? Does he wave his hands around a lot when he's speaking? Does she slouch when she walks? What does his laugh sound like? What does she believe in? Real people all speak differently and have their own little mannerisms. So should your characters.
5. Don't make characters too good -- or too bad -- to be true. When characters are nice all of the time and never make mistakes, they're just not fun to read about. And when villains have no redeeming or sympathetic qualities, they're flat and cartoonish. Humans are flawed, and that's what makes us fascinating. Show those different human aspects.
6. And, lastly, remember that writing entire "people" is an adventure, but it really is a process. Ultimately, if you have confidence in your creations, so will your readers.
Naomi Rabinowitz has always loved being creative. Raised in Nesconset, NY -- a suburb of Long Island -- she was introduced to the arts at an early age. Naomi received a B.A. in English from Binghamton University and an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from Syracuse University. From 1998-2012, she worked as a reporter/editor for national TV magazine Soap Opera Digest. These days, Naomi writes, plays jazz flute, and designs jewelry for her businesses - Naomi's Designs and MayaGirl Creations. She lives in Queens, NY, with her husband, Jonathan, and their cat, Maya. To connect with Naomi online visit her official blog and "friend" her on Facebook.
Travel along with Naomi as Revenge of a Band Geek Gone Bad makes its rounds on an exciting Virtual Book Tour. Click HERE or on the banner below to find out where the Band Geek will be stopping next and to find out how you can win a great prize pack just for joining in!