The Indie Initiative

Writerly Rant #30

paper cut outs

Cardboard Characters

by Mikael Carlson, Author

There are a lot of knocks on indie writers today – poor grammar, typos, bad formatting, etc. Many of these criticisms, unfortunately, are valid. I fell victim to them myself in my first book. We do not have the resources of big publishing houses at our disposal, and are usually hampered by what financial resources we can dedicate to turning out a polished work.

However, one complaint I rarely ever hear, or have experienced in my own reading, is a bad plot. Something compels aspiring authors to write, and the genesis of that motivation is often having a story you just can’t get out of your head. Many, if not all, of the indie books I’ve read have compelling plot lines that make for very entertaining stories. Any author will remark that telling a good story is the single most important part of writing any novel. Unfortunately, too many good stories fall short in other areas that diminish their value and readability.

There is one very important area I want to focus on in this rant. Have you ever read a story where you don’t care what happens to the characters? Are you apathetic to whether they live or die, are happy or sad, successful or failures? Those feelings come from poor character development and are a harbinger of an unsatisfying reading experience.

Plot may be the most important element in fiction writing, but good, developed, relatable characters are a close second. You can’t have one without the other and have a good novel. Unfortunately, while so many authors labor to create a fantastic story, they forget to develop the protagonists, antagonists, and supporting players in the narrative.

Readers want characters they care about, despise, resent, or love. As a writer, you want them to be invested in the people they are reading about to the point that their actions, ups, downs, victories, and heartbreaks all elicit emotional responses. They need to be deep, layered, imperfect, and believable. Characters escort a reader through the journey that is the story, and if they are not compelling, the book gets put down and never picked up again.

If it sounds hard to do, it’s because it is. As adults, we were forced to grow out of playing with the imaginary friends many of us had as children. However, good authors manage to channel their inner child and recreate those made-up people and incorporate them into their books. Writers who start thinking of characters as they exist in the real world, and not how they are on paper, often are rewarded with personas that leap off the page. Their characters become more real, because in essence, the writer thinks of them that way.

Do you know enough about Harry Potter, Holden Caufield, Alex Cross, Sebastian Grey, Katniss Everdeen, or Atticus Finch where you could imagine having dinner conversation with them (assuming you’ve read the books)? I’ll bet you can. If you are an author, and you can’t have an imaginary dinner with your characters based on what you read about them, then you need more depth and development. If you can, you may be on your way to a bestseller and a fun meal. Bon Appétit.

Mikael CarlsonMikael Carlson is the author of the political fiction novels The iCandidate and The iCongressman. He is an eighteen-year veteran of the armed forces, served as a U.S. Army Paratrooper, and earned a Master of Arts in American History. Mikael currently lives in Connecticut.

Categories: Rants, Writerly Rants

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