Friday, August 23, 2013

Character Essentials: "Hooking the Reader through Character Building, Part 4" with S. Alex Martin

S. Alex Martin is an author of young adult soft science-fiction, a blogger of writing tips and tricks, and a rising college senior in Pittsburgh. He's written and self-published three hard sci-fi books since 2004, and is finishing the fourth draft of "Embassy," the novel he hopes will become his debut in traditional publishing. You can follow him on his websiteTwitterPinterest, and Facebook.

Hey everyone, welcome to my last post in this series. Hope you enjoyed Brian's post last week!

Today's post is a bit shorter because I'm going back to college tomorrow, so I've been packing and shopping--all while finishing the fourth draft of my novel, Embassy. Yeah. I've been rushing around all week.

Anyway, I want to look at two specific ways to show how to develop characters: involvement their world, and how they deal with events.


Characters need roles. When the story opens, readers want to know who the characters are. What do they do? What events have shaped them? If you show your characters place in society, the reader will better understand what journey the character is going on and why they are going on it.

This is why it's so crucial to understand character back stories. Some people like to list hobbies and education and favorite foods and colors, etc, before they begin writing the story. Other people (like me) let the characters shape themselves as they write.

Here are examples of a character's  involvement  in different novels:

Robert Langdon is a professor of religious symbology at Harvard University, and is called upon to investigate religious-related happenings in the Vatican and other cities. ("Angels and Demons," by Dan Brown)

Hazel Lancaster is a cancer child who must cope with death, and falls in love with a boy who lost his leg to cancer. ("The Fault in Our Stars," by John Green)

Beatrice Prior is a sixteen year old girl who lives in a world divided into five factions, and the day has come for her to make a choice: stay with her family, or join a new faction. ("Divergent," by Veronica Roth)

You can see how these characters are involved in a world that directly relates to the story. Use that to shape your characters, and then present events that will progress the characters' changes.


Characters need to react to their worlds. This means  there need to be events that force the characters to make decisions--and sometimes they won't make the right ones. When necessary, complicate their lives. Make bad things happen. Make good things happen. But let your characters show their true selves in the choices they make, and maybe show how they change through the story.

We'll see three major ways characters act in their worlds: some will be active and seek out challenges. Others will be passive and let things progress as they are. Still, others will be reactive and make choices only as events happen.

Let's take the examples I used above and show how the characters react to the events in their stories. Keep in mind some stories have a mix of the three ways characters act:

ACTIVE: Robert Langdon must track down and stop an Illuminati plot to attack the Catholic Church after the death of the Pope. He must ACT and figure out where the Illuminati will strike, how they'll strike, and do so before the antimatter bomb destroys the Vatican and kills millions of people. (Angels and Demons)

PASSIVE: Hazel Lancaster can't really do much for her condition. She goes to support group, thinks about death a lot, and pretty much lives knowing she will die one day. When she meets Augustus Waters, they both have their jokes and travel together using his "Wish." But their reality always looms over them. (The Fault in Our Stars)

REACTIVE: Beatrice Prior joins a new faction and must react to her world and circumstances. Fights, fear tests, and a dark plot are ever-present. All of this is thrown at her and she must adapt to the situations. (Divergent)


Well, that's my last post in this series! Brian will be back next week with the final installment of "Hooking the Reader through Character Building."

Have questions? Need clarification? Comment below and I'll reply!

Until next time,
S. Alex Martin

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