If there is one element that can make or break a book, character development is it. Your protagonists must take control of their own destiny. They must make the decisions and take the actions that drive the story, and these must stem from who they are.
It’s easy to create intelligent, clever, compelling protagonists, but don’t pit them against slow, stupid villains. The match of wits should be even, or your conflict and tension will be contrived.
I briefly mentioned conflict in my previous post. So what do we mean by conflict? Think of conflict as a problem that has to be overcome.
There are two types:
When writing any novel, it is important to combine the internal conflict with the external conflict, so that they complement each other.
In romance novels it becomes a little more complicated, as you have two people who may have differing internal conflicts, which they have to deal with, as well as what is going on externally. It’s not necessary for the hero and heroine to have the same internal conflicts. For example, the hero may want the heroine to trust him, but because of something in her past, she can’t.
Romantic suspense is about impending danger and blossoming romance and none of it is meaningful unless we care about the characters. If you hate them, so will your readers. In the past heroines were portrayed as weak and naïve, but the modern heroine has backbone and stands up for herself. Bonnie Tyler’s song ‘I need a hero’ sums up the modern romantic suspense hero perfectly. ‘He’s gotta be strong, and he’s gotta be larger than life.’ He’s the guy we want on our side. The one who’s a little bit dangerous, the one our mothers warned us about when we first started dating.
Strong characters need strong names, so chose names with hard sounding consonants, such as D, G, and J etc. Likewise, choose names that are suitable for the time period in which your book is set. For example, Doris might have been a popular name back in the 1930s but not anymore, so think carefully when naming your characters. Does their name suit their appearance? If you’re stuck for a name, then use a baby name book or Google Search – there are lots of websites out there, and some even have lists of popular foreign names.
When developing a character don’t base them on your next-door neighbor or a friend. People can and do recognize themselves.
It helps to cut photographs from magazines or print out images from the Internet to aid with description.
Some authors like to use character sheets to record details such as hair, eye color, height, weight etc. They also like to create a background for each character – their likes and dislikes, whether they have any siblings, where they went to school or college.
For more information about character development, I suggest you read Debra Dixon’s book, ‘Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.’
Next week I’ll be discussing dialogue.