Five Tips to Help You Craft Compelling Main Characters

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Craft compelling main characters and your readers will stick with them, journey across worlds and through time with them, root for them, laugh or cry with them, and love them or love to hate them. Fail to craft compelling main characters, and . . . well, your readers won’t.

So how can you breathe life into your main characters, making them leap off the page with words alone? Here are five things to think about.Bring your characters to life with words alone.

  1. Human beings are multifaceted individuals, and your main characters should be as well. People aren’t all this or all that, capable of being defined by a handful of traits or an aspect of their lives. People are unique, with characteristics and foibles that set them apart from everyone else. An individual may even have a trait that seems to contradict his or her other traits. If you want your main characters to take on lives of their own, then they need to be just as complex and rounded out.
  2. Your main characters should each have something that they really want and work toward obtaining, whether it’s large or small, concrete or abstract. Get to know your characters—who they are, what they desire, and what their motivations are—and storylines may spring to mind from this knowledge.
  3. Make your characters’ actions, dialogue, thoughts, etc., believable and consistent. But that doesn’t mean your characters must be predictable and boring, completely lacking any ability to surprise readers. Just hint at the possibility that one of your characters may do something out of character and show how he or she is capable of it in the pages leading up to the surprise. You don’t want your readers left thinking, “No way would XXX do that!”
  4. If you want your main characters to be captivating, make sure they are dynamic and give readers the sense that they are capable of change and growth. Whether they do change, to what extent, and whether it’s a good or bad thing depend on your story. But as characters progress through a story, they usually undergo some degree of transformation.
  5. “Show,” don’t “tell.” When you carefully craft a passage, showing lets you reveal more information about your characters. It grabs readers, invests them in your story, and invites them to interact with it. And it forces you to reveal your characters in pieces, slowly, like real people become acquainted with one another. By carefully selecting characters’ actions, speech, thoughts, and appearances, you can create individuals who take on lives of their own.Make sure your main characters are worthy of the spotlight.

Now, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place in your story for characters who fade into the background. Your story needs a supporting cast. Just make sure that the characters you place in starring roles are worthy of those roles and are complex enough to see them through.

How do you get to know your characters? Please leave a comment!

Five Tips to Make Over Your Writing Style

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You know when you read something that just works? Where everything fits together and flows nicely? Well, as Nathaniel Hawthorne explained, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” But hard doesn’t mean impossible or unpleasant, and as with anything, you can work to improve your ability. Refine your writing style with these five tips.Your writing style is made up of a variety of "blocks" that work together to form a cohesive whole.

  1. Read voraciously and in a variety of genres. Think about what you’re reading and how it applies to your work. You can learn a lot from studying other writers. See how their words affect you, how they craft their words to convey their meaning and evoke certain emotions or attitudes, and how they handle different situations. Study books, articles, and blogs about the art of writing. And form a book group with other writers (in person or online) to discuss everything you’re reading and expand your perspective.
  2. Write, write, write . . . and write some more. Reading is great, but the best way to improve your writing style is to write. And shut off your internal critic—do not edit (at this point). Your own style will emerge. Play around with how you write things, your word choice, sentence structure, paragraphing, descriptions, and everything else. Adapt them to what you’re writing, and see what works as you experiment.
  3. Reflect and revise. Think about what you’re trying to do with your writing, what you want readers to take away. Writing is about expressing ideas, so you need to make sure the style you’ve chosen to write in effectively conveys your ideas to your target audience. Is your word choice appropriate? Are the words you selected too complex or too simple? Do they fit together nicely? Does your sentence structure reflect what is being written? Is it too complex or too simple for the ideas you’re expressing? Could your sentences be written more powerfully in a different way? Are your paragraphs logical, or do you have a reason for jumbling them together?
  4. Take the time to listen to your work—literally. Read it aloud, or have someone read it to you. Doing so lets you hear the flow of your words, sentences, and paragraphs. It helps you identify any choppy areas where your writing needs to be smoothed out.
  5. Find an unbiased critique partner. You’re closely invested in your writing. You know what you’ve been through with it. Working with another writer provides necessary objectivity, a fresh perspective, and an opportunity for growth. You can bounce ideas off each other and learn from each other. Each of you will become a stronger writer for it.

How do you work to improve your writing style? Please leave a comment!

How to Comma Correctly—Comma Splices and Compound Predicates Clarified

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Commas, commas, commas—who cares about commas? You should. They enable you to help your readers understand your meaning. They give you control over where your readers pause and divide sentences. And they can make the difference between an unclear sentence and a clear one. But commas have so many different uses that it’s easy to become confused about where to place them. Here, I’ll address the comma splice and compound predicate conundrums.

The Comma SpliceTo comma, or not to comma . . . that is the question.

Consider the following: “Revising your writing is crucial, thorough editing makes for a pleasant read.” This is a comma splice, which is something you usually want to avoid in your writing. Two complete sentences have been joined, or “spliced,” together with a comma. (Note, though, that a comma splice isn’t always wrong. It’s fine to use commas to “splice” together sentences if your sentences are short and parallel each other. “I wrote, I revised, I published.”)

So how can you deal with problematic comma splices?

One option is to substitute a period for the comma, transforming the statement into the two complete sentences already there. “Revising your writing is crucial. Thorough editing makes for a pleasant read.” If your two sentences are closely related, you could use a semicolon instead.

Alternatively, you could rework one of the independent clauses into a dependent clause to avoid a comma splice. “Because thorough editing makes for a pleasant read, revising your writing is crucial.”

Another solution is to include a suitable conjunction after the comma, such as “and,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” “since,” or “so.” “Revising your writing is crucial, and thorough editing makes for a pleasant read.” A comma isn’t necessary if you have a conjunction joining two independent clauses that are short and closely related. “Jane writes and John critiques.”

The Compound Predicate

If you opt to solve your comma issues by inserting a conjunction, check that you continue to have complete sentences on each side of the comma or you may have a compound predicate problem on your hands. “Jane writes for at least three hours a day, and she avoids revising for as long as she can,” not “Jane writes for at least three hours a day, and avoids revising for as long as she can.” The latter example has a compound predicate, with the verbs “writes” and “avoids” each referring to the subject “Jane.”

So, how do you correct a compound predicate problem?

It’s simple. When there is no subject in the second part of the sentence, no comma is needed before the conjunction. “Jane writes for at least three hours a day and avoids revising for as long as she can.” However, some style manuals recommend including a comma in sentences like this (especially when the conjunction”but” is used) if it is required for clarity. “Jane received a call from the agent who agreed to represent her, and passed out.” Without the comma, readers don’t know who passed out, Jane or the agent.

What kind of comma trauma do you suffer from? Please leave a comment!

He Said, She Said—Thoughts on the Third-Person Point of View

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Third-person point of view can be single vision, multiple vision, omniscient, or objective.With so many aspects of your story depending on your point-of-view decision, here are some elements for you to consider regarding third-person point of view. Its versatility makes a form of this perspective a great option.

With third-person point of view, the narrator is a voice you craft to relate your story rather than an actual character. But your narrator does (usually) have access to one or more characters’ minds. The pronouns “he” and “she” and their variants are associated with this point of view.

The popular third-person, single-vision perspective allows the narrator access to one character’s mind. Readers can intimately connect with and feel for the point-of-view character without having their attention or allegiance split. And you are not limited by this character’s maturity or intellect when selecting words, crafting phrases, or making complex observations to further your story. You are, however, limited in that you can only relate what the point-of-view character experiences, is told about, overhears, or is able to deduce.

With third-person, multiple-vision point of view, the narrator enters the minds of more than one character, however equally or unequally, and it works best in longer stories. It affords you more freedom in what you can write about. More point-of-view characters mean more experiences had, events witnessed, and observations made. You can even relay the same event from different perspectives. This point of view creates a complexity for readers, who have to work out how the different characters play off one another, what the differences between overlapping stories are revealing, and which characters to sympathize with. And it can create suspense when readers know things that the current point-of-view character does not. Just make sure that you have a good reason for using multiple-vision.

Omniscient third-person perspective provides the narrator with unlimited access to characters’ minds. You already know everything about the “world” you’ve created, and with this perspective you can reveal whatever you choose in creating your story. Though this perspective can be used effectively and is also great for building suspense, it has fallen from use and is often considered outdated, oppressive, unrealistic, and intrusive due to its “all-knowing” nature. And many writers find it easier to write from a more limited, more realistic perspective.

Third-person, objective point of view does not allow the narrator to see through any character’s eyes. The narrator is shut out, and everything you want to say must be revealed through what your characters say and do. The goal here is objectivity, but one of the thrills of reading fiction is being able to peep inside someone else’s mind and that is lacking with this perspective.

Which third-person point of view do you gravitate toward? Please leave a comment!