Tips Tuesday: Character Builders

As an editor I see a lot of great characters who start out strong, and then fall flat. I thought I’d share a handful of pointers I typically bring up with authors during the revision process, so your characters can start off even stronger.

Elle Woods1. It’s not enough to “know” your main character. Keep getting to know her!

You know her – what she eats, what she dreams, and what she thinks. You nail her voice. And then…. You get so close to her that you sort of forget to keep growing and developing her. If readers are making comments along the lines of “I don’t buy that she would let her best friend date her ex,” or “why isn’t she standing up more to her parents?” then take that as a sign that they are invested in your character and believe in her enough to recognize actions and reactions that don’t suit her.

Sparkly Supporting Cast2. Your supporting cast has to sparkle.

In the movies, the performance of the Best Supporting Actress and Actor can sometimes be the most affecting performance of the year. Your fictional supporting cast should also shine. Whether it’s one person (the BFF, the sibling, the bully) or a posse of characters (think “Freaks and Geeks” or “The Breakfast Club”), readers have to love ‘em. Give your supporting cast dimension. If your main character is strong and interesting enough, then she can exist alongside your supporting cast – beautifully.

3. That goes for your villain, too.

Behind every good bully/villain is a juicy backstory. Show it.

Regina 01Loki


4. Show the “process” of your characters’ feelings.

It isn’t enough to tell readers about your character’s feelings. (But you know that already, right?) Someone in a writing workshop I attended a long time ago put it so well: Readers need to see the process of a character’s emotions. If something creepy is happening, I want to “see” a character freaking out. It doesn’t have to take a paragraph. But slow down and let your character have her emotional process. Your book will be better for it.

PrincePrince 2

Author spotlight

Liz S.

Hi, I'm the Editor-in-Chief at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. I've worked in the book biz for over 30 years (let's just …

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