Characters

All stories are character driven. That’s the first thing Donald Maass calls out in this chapter of Writing the Breakout Novel. It’s a no brainer but worth emphasizing.

When I wrote my first novel, I really tried to have my main character be the focal point which was part of the problem. The character wasn’t driving the novel but just had a big spot light on him. My character wasn’t engaging enough; meaning he was too ordinary. Folks are not reading novels for boring characters – they want complex characters that are larger than life. My approach was a try not a do. I missed the mark here; my character was interesting but not breakout interesting.

Another key point on characters Maass makes, goes back to the larger than life concept. These characters do whatever they want  and say whatever they want. We, as people living in reality, can not. Or we can but not get very far in life. Characters are supposed to be conflict driven at all times – if they’re not who’s going to read about them? The conflict the character is involved in is supposed to keep us  engaged and turning the pages.

And to keep the pages turning, Maass recommends that characters be deep and many-sided. Have supporting characters that create contrast in order to achieve balance but also to create more conflict. These factors can create rich, complex characters that should produce a great novel.

One other note on characters; I’m fan of the anti-hero. He’s not a bad or a good guy but does his own thing. While I like these types of characters, they can’t be indifferent all the time. They have to have redeeming qualities in order to gain sympathy from a reader. Maass discusses this in his book and I’m glad he did. It completely makes sense. The anti-hero can be viewed as a selfish jerk sometimes but during a novel or movie has a few moments that allow you to sympathize for him. It’s this way for a reason. If the character was a complete bastard all the time, the novel (or movie) really wouldn’t have to many redeeming qualities hence not that interesting or engaging. Something to keep in mind if you’re like me and attracted to unique character types.

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1 Comment

  1. […] into these elements but would like to focus on the sympathetic character element. My last post on characters hit on this. Sympathy goes a long way when it comes to a reader connecting with a character. As […]


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