Creating Strong Characters

One of the hardest things for some authors to do is to create strong characters. This problem seems to be more of the case if the books are plot-driven and not character-driven.

Plot-driven books are those like murder mysteries where the plot structure is defined and certain things are expected; character-driven are typically more literary or historical where the character's life and process matters.

My books are character-driven since what happens to my characters causes the tension and mystery within the series. When I create a new book, it always focuses on the character and what she gets into, not the action and who is involved. For Azure, her personality and position drives the storyline. Without Azure being who she is, it makes little sense.

In the up-coming series, the main character, Orfhlait (pronounced or la) pursues the murder investigation because she believes that God has forgotten that He loves her. To prove that she is worthy of love, Orfhlait decides that finding her friend's murderer will help.

In the book that I'm writing in August, the main character, Aloysia has a strong sense of justice so when sex-trafficking comes to Lancaster County, Aloysia attempts to destroy the trafficking ring.

As I write, I focus on five aspects to make my characters stronger:
  1. Cause - what's the big picture item that they seek? For Azure it's true worship; Aloysia is justice; Orfhlait is love in Truth. All three women have something that they pursue throughout their series that drives them to do the next thing.
  2. Personality - who are they? While the three characters are similar, their personalities aren't always the same. Azure, by nature, is reserved until provoked; Aloysia charges head-first into things; Orfhlait is more like Aloysia, but beaten back.
  3. Culture - where do they live? In addition to personality, this makes a big difference. Azure and Aloysia are both in positions where they have freedom; Orfhlait, being a 15th century woman, has less freedom.
  4. Relationships - who do they love? Families and friends always add a different dynamic to life. Azure and Aloysia both come from outwardly expressive families that argue, laugh and show love to each other; Orfhlait's family is reserved at best. How the families react to each other adds to how a character acts. In addition, how their friends are help. In all three characters, they have strong friendships that support them throughout the series, as do their relationships with God.
  5. Voice - how do they sound? These three characters all come from elite backgrounds. Azure is a mermaid princess; Orfhlait is Irish-Norman nobility and Aloysia is American upper-middle class. None of the three sound exactly like each other. There are words that I write for a character then pause, erase and shake my head because Aloysia would never say fill-in-the-blank, but another character might.
Wrapping these five elements together creates stronger, more believable characters, but what about the character? Is she a strong character who takes charge or a weak character who lets things happen? I think I had one weak character who I eventually put aside until I can figure out a way to make her stronger. She's believable, just not interesting, and a dull leading lady.

The weak character might be integral to the storyline, especially if it involves the character's growth. Some of the ways that you can make a weak (passive) character into a stronger (assertive) character is to adjust the character slightly.

A passive character usually has no goals; assertive characters list goals.
A passive character lets things happen; assertive characters create changes.
A passive character retreats in confrontation; assertive characters assess the situation, fighting if needed.

Fiction, story-telling, needs conflict for without it there is no tension and no reason to move forward. Passive characters rarely move, and usually just allow things to happen to them whereas assertive characters fight. The ensuing conflict might create changes or incite arguments - either way, tension has been created.

If the story seems a little slow, take a look at the main characters. Are they believable? If so are they passive or are they active?


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