The Elements of Fiction: Character

My last post on the Elements of Fiction dealt with plot, and it was hard to lock that topic down without morphing into this topic – characters. The two go hand-in-hand, just like peanut butter and jelly (I’m not a big fan of peas and carrots).

I said before that the plot IS the story, and without plot, you don’t have a story. Well, without characters, you don’t have a story either. Plot tells what happens, and the characters are the people to whom the plot happens.

I also stated before that the seed for my first novel began with a character. Once I discovered WHO this character was, the answers to the questions I had began to take shape.

A story usually has a “protagonist,” or main character, who wants or needs something and an “antagonist,” or the person or thing which opposes the protagonist from achieving his or her goal. Sounds simple enough. But of course, it’s not really that simple.

The protagonist must be special, someone the reader can immediately relate to, engage with, and root for. He or she must be both strong and fallible, real and flawed but also admirable and heroic.

Some novels may have a cast of characters that collectively represent a protagonist. Think Justice League of America. Or if you’re not a comic book nerd like me, think of the cast of movies such as The Breakfast Club or The Dirty Dozen. Each character has his or her own “story within the story.” Each has a personal demon to fight or circumstance to overcome. But their stories intertwine to form a whole entity that must prevail against a common antagonist.

Most books on writing will tell you, though, that this is hard to accomplish within a novel. Because a reader needs someone to latch on to, your story would be best suited by pulling out one strong protagonist for the reader to follow throughout the journey that is the novel. Otherwise, the reader might feel pulled in too many directions and can’t really focus on one particular character to identify with. They won’t have the same loyalty to a wide cast of characters that they will to one main character.

Now, this idea can shift according to genre. For romance and romantic suspense novels, there should be two main characters – the hero and heroine. Obviously, since the main point of a romance is for two people to fall in love, you must have two main characters who are both striving toward a common goal – to be in love. These novels will still have an antagonist – something that keeps them from reaching their goal. For a romance, it could be a person or persons. Perhaps a rival love interest, an angry ex, or even society that keeps them apart.

For romantic suspense, the antagonist usually takes the form of some kind of danger – a deadly threat to either the hero or heroine or both. Because of the suspense element, the two main characters are usually somehow involved in a criminal investigation, murder mystery, or a threat to the safety of others. Many of these characters have jobs in law enforcement, the military, or other public safety agency.

In the next few posts, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my characters (without revealing too much about the plot of the story!).

What kind of characters do you relate to the most? Are there certain traits that draw you to a character? Name a character who made a strong impression on you (for good or bad). Share in the comments.

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