Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Ever get a rejection letter that states: "The characters are not well developed." or words to that affect? Me too...

So what does that generic statement mean? It's the editor/agent's way of saying the characters are not realistic and don't come alive for a reader. How can you make your characters interesting and realistic? Well, let's take a look.

In their book Structuring Your Novel: From Basic Idea To Finished Manuscript, Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald define characterization as: "...the use to which each character puts the traits with which he or she is endowed." In a short story showing one side of a character is acceptable, in a novel, however, you must show all 4 sides of the major character. These 4 sides are:

  1. General Traits: those formed by heredity and environment.
  2. Physical Traits: those expressed in the person's physical make up.
  3. Personal Traits: found in the character's social and ethical aspects.
  4. Emotional Traits: the mental or psychological cast of the character.

If you expect a reader to get involved or at least become interested in your protagonist you must effectively communicate his or her traits. This requires the writer to know his/her protagonist intimately and to truly care for him/her. If the writer doesn't care about a character why should a reader?

I utilize a couple of forms that I created on each of my major characters. On these forms I conceive my characters. I include everything from date and place of birth to describing the character's relationships with a number of different types of people. The forms are too detailed for a single post, however drop me an email and I'll send them to you as a Word attachment.

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