Two character questions

  1. What is your character hoping for?
  2. What is your character afraid of?

Something or someone must stand in her way otherwise there is no conflict, no tension and therefore, no story.  The dramatic tension lies in the contrast between hope & fear.

Your reader wants two things – to identify with your hero and to escape from her own reality.  So, from the outset, tell us what the hero wants to achieve. That is our hook into the story. Now, keep the hero focused on this objective. Nothing else matters.

If your hero moves aimlessly through the action, only reacting to events, then we are in danger of losing our interest in her story.

So, force the hero into action. And the more extrovert she is, the better. Extroverts just can’t help making a fuss. Add to that the ability to be frightened and you have got an interesting character.  Without fear, your character can’t exhibit true courage. And if there is no courage, then the character doesn’t grow and isn’t changed by the adventure. And that would be a disappointment.


Develop your characters through action and dialogue

Show us, don’t tell us, what’s going on and why.  Don’t write ‘She was loud and rude’ but “Get outa my way, you jerk!’ she bellowed.

Is the character interested by what’s going on? Keep her active – no sitting around, doing nothing as she might walk off stage. Where does she go? Round out the character by showing complex psychology and emotions such as fear, frustration, anger, rage and envy.

Step into Character

Step into the character and experience the world as he does. What can you smell, seeing, tasting, hear?

Rummage through his pockets. An old piece of string? A penknife? A snotty handkerchief?

Feel the cloth of his clothes. Is it fine or rough? Bought on the high street or in Savile Row?

Look at the photographs on the mantelpiece. Photos of a marriage or a friend or the Nepalese mountains?  What nicknames and keepsakes does he have on his desk?

Where does he hide his addictions? Cigarettes, drink? In the cupboard, behind a copy of Charles Dicken’s Bleak House?

The accused – put your protagonist in the dock

How do you know what to write? Where do you begin? You have an idea and you want to build it into a story.

So, put your protagonist in the dock

Start with the Opening Statements
Before the prosecution and defence present evidence and witnesses, both sides have the right to give an opening statement about the story. These statements provide an outline of what is the arguments to come.

The prosecutor must convince you that your character committed a crime.

Presentation of the Evidence
The prosecutor presents the evidence with such items such as

  • photographs
  • weapons
  • clothes
  • videos
  • audio recordings

He then presents the case through examination of prosecution witnesses. The defence then is allowed to cross-examine to show the witness’s stories are not true or reliable.
The defence may be able to force the witness to admit that he or she is biased. She may hold a grudge against the accused or be a friend of the victim.

Or question whether the witness wore glasses, drank alcohol, was close enough to see clearly, or whether it was too dark to see well.

The accused must always question anything she disagrees with in the witness’s account.
After this, the lawyer for the accused will present its case through by calling its own witnesses who are then cross-examined by the prosecutor.

The accused can decide to testify. If her version of what happened is important, she must tell it at this time, under oath. If the accused testifies, the prosecutor will cross-examine her to try to show that she is not being honest or that she changed her story. She will have to answer all the questions that the prosecutor asks her. The prosecutor is looking for ways of getting her to say something that hurts her case. This is what you want to do: to rip off the mask and reveal the real person beneath.

Sometimes a judge will not allow certain kinds of evidence to be used. For example, hearsay, when someone said something to the accused that she wants to use as evidence, this person must come to court to repeat it.

Finally, after all the evidence, you might want to summarise the story by writing two closing arguments: a version of events from the point of view of the prosecution and the defence.

Actions lead to reactions

The way your characters react is the way we get to know them. Write a scene in which your characters are forced to react.

Thought or emotion crosses the line into plot when it becomes action and causes reactions. Until then, attitudes, however interesting in themselves, are just potential, just cloudy possibilities.

This is not necessarily purely physical action. It could be a look, stance, grimace or gesture – any physical manifestation of attitude or personality. Sometimes even the failure to act tells us more about character than an overt action.