APRIL OWL | Three Tips for More Compelling Characters by Lauren Clarke

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Compelling characters are essential to every story. In this course, Lauren Clarke dives into the mechanics of what makes your characters tick and how to ensure you have characters readers love (or love to hate).

1. Make your characters physically unique

Too often, we’re tempted to describe our characters as if we’re putting out a call for stars in a TV sitcom. “We want someone blonde, with blue eyes and a svelte figure.” 

Can you imagine how many actresses you’d get turning up for that casting? You’d have everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Drew Barrymore on site, when perhaps you were after more of a Margot Robbie.

In fiction, we don’t have the luxury of being able to use a visual to create our characters. Next time you’re putting character details on the page, I invite you to be more physically unique. Go on. Give it a go. What distinctive features can you give your character to help make them less casting call, more real-life person? 

There’s a great concept from author Rebecca McClanahan where she challenges you to make your character identifiable in a police line-up. If they have six other people with the same eye and hair colour as your protagonist, what makes your hero stand out?

2. Show your character instead of telling 

I know, I know. Show, don’t tell? What a novel concept!

But seriously, the more you show your character instead of telling, the more your readers will relate—and the thinner that veil between the protagonist and the consumer will be. We want our readers to be the protagonist. Heck, when I’m reading Pride and Prejudice? I am Lizzie, and she is me, and we are both so gosh-darn peeved at Mr Darcy for his presumptions!

Have you ever experienced that? That feeling that you are the protagonist?

One way we can create this for our readers is through showing. Don’t tell me your protagonist is tall. Show them ducking to avoid knocking their head on a doorway. Don’t say she’s always desperate to leave the home—show me scenes where she takes that opportunity to flee from the house (ducking to avoid hitting her head on the way out, of course). Show me, show me, show me, and I won’t have that reminder that I’m reading—and therefore, I’m more likely to forget that I’m a reader instead of the leading lady in your novel.

3. Give your character agency from the very first page of your book

Psst: I got a secret for you. 

Readers love active characters. 

They want a character who has agency. Who is acting independently and striving to achieve what they want, not just a leaf floating along with the breeze. You want your character to be strong enough to happen to the story, and not just have the story happen to them. 

Why? Well, when our characters have agency, we find it easier to get behind them and give them our support. We can better invest in them as people as they’re more defined, focused and easy to follow.

Crafting Compelling Characters with Lauren Clarke

RWA Course Dates: 6 April to 1 May 2020

Cost: RWA Member—$55. Non-RWA Member—$88. 

Venue: Online – RWA Moodle Platform

For more info and bookings https://www.trybooking.com/BHFUS

About the presenter

Presenter Lauren Clarke

Lauren Clarke is an editor, coach and teacher for traditional and independent authors. She works with a range of authors, some USA Today, New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers amongst them. For more information on Lauren’s editing and author coaching services, visit www.CREATINGink.com   

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