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  • Writing Characters: Character vs Caricature
Writing Characters: Character vs Caricature
Written by
Glo Gray
May 2014
Written by
Glo Gray
May 2014

Characters can make or break a book. Get it right and you can make your reader love, sweat, laugh and cry along with the people in your book. Do that and you will have them as a fan for life. Writing great, memorable and believable characters is really important, but it can be tricky!

Because of my reading, my own writing and my work as an editor’s assistant, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what makes a good character and what doesn’t. Here are some things I have learned:

- Your character is a person. Not an idea, not a vehicle for your fantasies, but a person. Real people are flawed, complicated, changeable. They are more than the sum of a set of characteristics. Remember this and your characters will be deeper and more credible.

- Use superlatives sparingly Main characters are frequently depicted as the most strong/beautiful/rich/intelligent/violent/untouchable etc. But how many real life people do you know that are like this? Your character doesn’t have to be the biggest, best or most *insert adjective here* in order to be interesting, especially not to the detriment of developing their other traits.

- Your character doesnt have to be stereotypically hot! Honestly, I am driven MAD by the amount of characters I read who are beautiful, flawless, smoking hot, sexy, yadayada YAWN! Seriously, why do we feel that only hot people are interesting? If you think about that just for a moment, you will realise that its both flawed and unrealistic. I long for some normal looking people in books, particularly romance books. I yearn for characters whose looks are not their defining feature. Love and sexual attraction is not the sole province of the unrealistically hot. Physical appearance is not the most interesting thing about, well, anyone.

-Think about dialogue So much of character is brought out during dialogue, and its important to make sure this is plausible and stays true to the character. A great trick is to read your dialogue aloud, and see if it sounds like something a person would actually say. It’s suprising how often it doesn’t!

-Approach stereotypes with caution An interesting concept can be made less impressive if littered with literary or genre stereotypes. The problem is, it’s damn tempting to reproduce them, and easy to do without realising it. When I think of some of the so-called  characters I have written…cringe.  Here are some I see over and over:

* The domineering and yet appealing alpha male * The feisty female who finds her soft side (loses her backbone?) when she meets the alpha male * The sexually neutral diplomatic friend who reconciles Feisty Female and Alpha Male * The golden hearted promiscuous female * The bitchy yet attractive female * The intelligent bespectacled asthmatic * The inexplicably orgasmic female (but only when she is bedded by the expert and impressively well-endowed alpha male….)

You get the gist. Don’t get me wrong- originality in fiction is not necessary for the story to be good, not completely. We like an element of familiarity in our characters, plots and tropes. Retaining some elements of the stereoptypes whilst shaking them up can work well. But re-producing them totally can make for one-dimensional characters.

Summary: What this essentially boils down to is: Write real people, not ideas or caricatures of people. That’s when compelling characters are born.

PS: A great way to get deeper into your characters is to interview them, as advised here: http://towriteastory.com/how-to-interview-your-character/

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