Characterisation, Part Two

If you're really lucky, your characters are going to turn up in your head ready to go.

Just like this lovely lady! (Another Miss Cole original, September 1990!)

More often than not, they'll need a lot of tweaking as you work through the drafts.

My novel is about three young people coping with the war they are caught up in.  The story used to be about four people.  My original lead, Nina, became involved accidentally and fell in with the other three, all of whom were experienced soldiers. Nina was terrified but dealt with things as best she could, always striving to stay optimistic.

The secondary lead was Nina's mentor, who was trying to deal with a personal tragedy while fighting in the war. She was hard, cruel, bitter and depressed. Jaded by what had happened to her during the war, she was the opposite of the naïve Nina.

Even when I was writing solely from Nina's perspective, I was always telling her mentor's story. When I started writing the mentor's perspective alongside Nina's, Nina's wasn't working because her story didn't move the plot forward.

The mentor had real motivation for her actions, a deeper character and was simply much more fun to write. Despite being a soldier, the human story of her personal struggles and tragedies were driving the plot and readers would be able to relate to her on some level. Nina's story – a girl caught up in war with no reason to fight other than having no choice – lacked the driving force my plot needed.  Eventually, I cut Nina out at the end of the first chapter.

With Nina gone, the story moved on.  Events have changed, new locations have sprung up, but I haven't lost interest like I did when I was trying to force the story in the wrong direction.  The mentor needed a slight personality adjustment to make her more sympathetic, but she's still pretty gruff.  Hopefully her story will be as engaging to readers as I hope it is!

My other big problem was the number of characters I had. There were eight, all of whom were vying for the spotlight. Yes, there are a lot of books out there with a big cast of characters, but usually there are only a few who are the focus of the story. I didn't have enough plot for so many characters, and too many of them were the same person with a different name and gender. When I got rid of Nina, I toughened up and four more characters disappeared along with her. The plot no longer needed them.  With a smaller cast and a streamlined plot, things got back on track. 

It's a pretty track!
It's amazing what adapting my characters has done for the plot. If you're really struggling, focus on your characters. Maybe write a scene of their back-story and see if it's interesting enough to keep them going in the main story. If you're struggling, consider adding to their personality or even getting rid of them. Stories will undergo massive changes before they're done; they'll take on a life of their own.  Don't be afraid to try something drastic to keep yourself motivated.

Be sure to let me know if you have any questions or ideas for how you create characters!

Oh, and I know last time I mentioned talking about names in this post, but I think naming is a huge deal, so I'll give it a post of its own next time.

Happy Writing!


  1. Brilliant idea to write a character's back story if you're struggling with them! :D I never thought to do that! Awesome.

  2. Laura: I got into the habit of writing backstories to get a strong grip on my characters. The stories don't necessarily make it into the main plot, but I can refer back to them and reassure myself no-one's getting out of character.


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