4 Important Character Concerns

Here are some things to consider in creating your main character. Note I don’t say “hero” or “heroine,” because sometimes the terms don’t apply at first.

Is your character an Insider or Outsider: are they already fully immersed in the world or is the reader becoming aware along with the character? Sometimes the best way to introduce a reader to the world of the weird is to introduce the protagonist to it, so that he or she begins at the same level of knowledge, basically, as the reader.
    In Odessa, Book One of the Seraphym Wars Series, or Harpies, Book Two, Myrna and Griffen are from Earth but find themselves suddenly and inexplicitly waking on a foreign planet fill with demon-dragons who run the place. Not only that, but the world is Steampunk instead of the contemporary Earth they know. People dress strangely and vehicles hover or sail through the sky while the world itself is primal and filled with monsters. These ambiguities create a lot of tension for the characters, but for the reader as well. The reader is taking the same journey as the characters in learning about their new world.

Alternately, it can be intriguing simply to launch your reader into the fictional world right from the beginning. In my Middle Grade story Masquerade’s Moon Madness, Masquerade is an adorable black cat who used to be a little girl but now lives with a young witch named Wendy. The reader accompanies Masquerade on her adventures throughout time and space as she and Wendy travel and learn. But it’s up to the reader to simply accept certain facts; like a little orphan girl becoming a cat after sipping the witch’s stew.

Can you character take abuse? As any writer is aware, every good character has flaws. The only character I can think of who might not is Jesus or a computer (and even then something could be devised). After all, if your character is too wimpy to withstand the conflict your story must cast their way, they really aren’t much of a character are they? So why should a reader continue reading about them? What will hold the reader’s attention? The other reason a character must be flawed is to seem realistic. How else will a reader empathize with the character’s plight?

But as important as a flaw or two may be, it is more important that the character have the guts and wherewithal to deal with the issues at hand. Just remember to ease the character into being able to solve their problems. If they seem super-human from the get-go, how will they grow and evolve through the story? Again, why should a reader continue reading about the character if they’re strong and capable from the beginning? This brings up the next point…

Hidden strengths: In a novel, characters’ actions tends to larger than life, so characters must be pushed beyond what you or I consider normal endurance. The result is they’ll either break or find hidden strengths that allow them to survive and solve their problems. Breaking is obviously the less heroic choice. How the character solves the conflict determines their hidden strengths and brings them to the surface.

How does your character best speak? POV: Narration, whether it comes from the main character, a secondary character or outside viewer, has changed significantly over the past hundred years. If you read anything written in the early 1900’s you will easily discern the author’s opinion throughout the story, even fiction, because it was common for the omniscient narrator to share their own ideas. But today’s readers don’t have the time for all of the extraneous narration and want to make up their own minds about how they feel about the characters and story.

Hence, the omniscient narrator has become passe and the popular POV is first person for younger books, although third person is still widely used everywhere.

First person, or the “I” perspective, is quite popular right now, especially in young fiction. It can feel intimate, which is what teens seem to like about it; but it can also be limiting, since it’s best (though not exclusively) used in single point of view. Word of caution: don’t allow your character to speak directly to the reader (another ancient form of narration). A reader wants to disappear into a book and live vicariously alongside the characters. Also, one person can’t ever truly know what’s going on in someone else’s head, so a writer must give the reader cues through dialogue, expression and body language.

Third person is the most commonly used POV. This is the “he” or “she” perspective. The reader remains in a particular character’s head until a new character takes over after a section break or new chapter. There are caveats here too. If you choose to write from more than one perspective, it’s important for each voice to sound truly distinctive so that the reader doesn’t forget who’s speaking/thinking. It is strongly advisable for the writer to limit the number of POVs so a reader doesn’t get confused and lose track of the main character’s conflict/resolution.

Generally, for younger readers one POV is used, sometimes a second POV can be inserted sparingly and obviously made different; Young Adult might have as many as three. Authors today are trying various techniques in search of the almighty best-seller. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they flop. I read a book, or started reading it, which changed perspective with each chapter. With four or five character POVs constantly changing like that I quickly got lost and lost interest in the book. So mind how many POVs you use and keep them obviously different enough readers don’t get lost.

Harpies, Book Two Seraphym Wars Series for YA Readers
Transported to a planet he'd never heard of was the least of fifteen-year-old Griffen's problems. Learning to control his suddenly increasing strength and new ability to pull lightning from the sky takes some getting used to.  Angry preteen Seth joins the quest; meanwhile discovering his combusting ability as a fire-starter. Driven to find the last Vigorio, a young girl able to experience others' emotions, they journey together toward their destinies as warriors against Narciss, Ruler of Tartarus and his Legio of demon-dragons. Narciss’s Harpy henchmen have other ideas, however.

Rebecca Ryals Russell is author of Seraphym Wars Series for YA readers and Stardust Warriors Series for MG readers. She also has several MG chapter books in the works as well as a YA Dystopian. See more about her and her WIPs at Under the Hat of MG/YA Dark Fantasy Author Rebecca Ryals Russell or Tween Word Quest.


Charmaine Clancy said...

Great list, I'll share this one!
Wagging Tales

mooderino said...

That was a great post, I enjoyed it very much.
Moody Writing
The Funnily Enough

Heidiwriter said...

These are all valuable insights for beginning writers (and good reminders for veterans!) Thank you for sharing.

I have a question for the audience at large--is it still common practice for romances to "head-hop" or switch POV in mid-paragraph?

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great insights. I also think hidden flaws give depth to a character.

Karen Cioffi said...

Very helpful tips, Rebecca. I read that the protagonist and the conflicts needs to be 'larger' than life in children's writing. And, the hero must rise up and meet the challenges.

Although, it's advised to allow the hero to lose one or two of the minor battles on his journey to triumph.

I like first-person POV, but haven't tried it yet.

Thanks for sharing.

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

Melanie Marttila said...

Excellent points to consider. Thanks for your post!

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