Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Creating your own Edward...

Our topic this week is creating believable characters, and how we as authors go about doing such. Here's a few thoughts from me...

It's been said that authors write one of two ways: either by character-driven novels, or plot-driven novels.

I humbly beg to differ! I believe every story is character driven, and if it's not, then it's not really that great. (ducking!)

Seriously, though, think about it. Some stories might be more high-paced, intense, full of twists and turns and mysteries and action. But those stories STILL have characters, and the reader still has to care about that character or else they get bored, regardless of how exciting the character's circumstances might be.

When I think of "character driven novels" of today's time (because 99% of the classics were very character-driven! Jane Austen's works, Dickens, etc.) I think of Susan May Warren's novels. Karen Kingsbury's. Dee Henderson's beloved "O'Malley Series". Even branching away from inspirational fiction, consider Harry Potter and Twilight.

If Edward wasn't so lovable and tormented, then Twilight would have been just another vampire story, just another quick read that was tossed aside before someone moved on to the next. Instead, because of Edward, and okay, because of Bella too, every teenager in America is saying things like "Forget a knight on a white horse. I'd rather have a vampire in a silver Volvo" and other crazy quotes. lol (yes, that one is really out there!)

Same thing with Harry Potter. Not every series in the world causes people to dress up as the characters and camp outside movie theaters for the earliest tickets or storm bookstores to celebrate sequel releases. Why did this series? Because of the CHARACTERS.

Here's why, I think:

“Flawed characters are the unforgettable ones.” Susan Shaughnessy

It all comes back to conflict conflict conflict. Many assume conflict plays more of a role in plot and circumstances than characters, but I disagree. The characters need outer conflict, yes, to keep the story rolling. But more important than that I believe, is the character's own internal conflict and the conflict between he/she and another character.

Take Edward and Bella. He's a vampire, she's got his favorite type of blood. Voila - conflict. But there are deeper levels than that. Edward is tormented inside because he doesn't WANT to be vampire. He doesn't WANT to be a monster or be bad or have to hold himself back from drinking people. (how noble!) Bella's conflict, on the other hand, is the opposite. She doesn't want to human and grow old and one day be without Edward. She WANTS to be a vampire, WANTS to be changed to be like him so they can be together. (also, pretty noble)

That's why it works. We have two characters, with opposite goals and conflicts, trying to be together in the name of love. Everything is against them, and because of that, the reader wants them to get together.

If there were no obstacles in their way, we'd have a fast, boring, forgettable read.

Think about this quote, too, for a minute:

“I think you will find that, if you continue to write fiction, every character you create is partly you.” Stephen King

I find this true of myself. A little part of me - whether it be backstory, childhood memories, favorite collectibles, unfulfilled dreams, hidden desires, bad habits or quirks - end up in my stories. Every single time. There is SOMETHING Betsy in every story, and I don't plan that. It just comes out of me and into my character. And I think as authors that's why we get so attached. Our characters become a representation of ourselves, even if only in shadow. We exist in them.

So, to wrap up, how we create believable characters as authors is to:

1. Realize the importance of the character to the story
2. Make sure the character has enough layers and various levels of conflict (inner, outer, etc.) and isn't perfect.
3. Put a little something personal into the characters to make them real to us. If they're not real to you, they won't be real to your reader!

Now, no more excuses. Get to writing! =)


  1. Loved reading this post; thanks :) Characters are my favorite part about books, whether I'm reading a novel by another author or writing my own. And what you said about each character being partly you... so true. Every character I create has a little bit of me in them... sometimes not much. Sometimes it's just a common interest/hobby, or a character quality we share... but they're always a little like myself :)
    And nah, I've never been able to get into Twilight. Grosses me out. Bella's all like, but I know he really loves me because he hasn't tried to eat me yet! How romantic. Ick.

  2. I had ZERO interest in Twilight. Not even a blip on my radar at all. Then my writer's group decided to go see it as a field trip, analyzing it over coffee afterward. I went just to participate, and I got hooked despite myself.

    Betsy's right. It's all about the characters and the internal and external conflict. You can't help rooting for doomed love. You want to see people make it despite the fact that the chances of it working out are slim to none.

    For me, the same holds true for any story I pick up. If I can't feel for the characters and their situation pretty much from page one, let's just say I'm not going to purchase a ticket to ride along side them on their journey.

    Yet somehow, when it comes to my own writing, I often forget about the internal struggle. Thanks, Betsy for reminding me of that! I know my stories are going to be the better for it.

  3. Betsy, this is fabulous!!! I think you're totally right - it's the inner conflict meshing with the outer conflict that keeps bringing us back to a story. Perfect illustration with Twilight!