Enhancing Your Characters by Jessica Reino

By Jessica Reino, Pandamoon Editor and Author of THE WRITER'S ZEN

There are many things that I love about working directly with authors during the substantive editing process, but one of the major things is how invested I become in the story and the characters themselves. I especially enjoy working on a series with an author. Once we are done with one of the books in the series, I literally cannot wait to work on the sequel because I need to know what happens next since I have been right alongside each characters’ journey from the beginning.

As an editor and reader, I need to know what changes the characters have made. I wonder how their decisions effect the plot and what each character learns about themselves, other characters, and the world around them throughout each book. Sometimes I even find myself making notes to an author asking if a protagonist would act in a certain way because it seems to be inconsistent with that character’s moral code. (Yes, characters do have moral codes and if that character happens to be a villain, maybe a lack of morals, but you get the idea.) Characters need to be complete and multi-layered. They need to be interesting, and they need to have a thought-out arc just as much as a plot arc itself. Otherwise, the story would fall flat. The reader needs to care about the characters or be interested enough in the characters to want to keep reading and find out what happens next. 

 So how do you create memorable characters? Honestly, there is no one-size fits all formula and most writers will tell you that the characters in their novels end up writing themselves. However, there are a few exercises, (really scenarios) that I like to pose to authors I work with to help them get a good sense of who their characters are and what makes them tick.  Here are the top five:

  1. Your characters are stranded on a deserted island. What three things would they need to have with them to survive and why?
  2. If your characters were to dress up for Halloween, who or what would they be and why?
  3. Your characters just won the lottery. What would they do with the money and why?
  4. Your characters have the chance to visit anywhere in the world. Where would they go and why? Who would they want to bring with them and why?
  5. You are meeting your characters at a coffee shop. What would you talk about? Write it all down and pay attention to cadence, dialogue, tone, etc.

These are just a few of the many scenarios you can use to create those multi-dimensions to your characters to give them depth. You can explore the interests of your characters, what they can and cannot live without, who they can and cannot live without, and how they sound. By creating these scenarios, you are creating your characters and your characters’ world. You are turning your characters into believable beings. The sky is the limit (unless of course you are writing a space opera) and you are the creator of your characters’ destiny. So, be sure to not only create your characters, but enhance them. Compelling characters will make it more fun for you to write their stories down and you will be surprised how the plot can take off from there.