Charlie Laidlaw is an author and tutor at Creating Writers

Two main elements in a book are plot and character.  Both are vitally important..

Your book must be populated by characters that seem real.  Okay, they may be ghosts, zombies or aliens, but they have to be believable!

Because, as a reader, I want to read about characters I can empathise with.  Characters I like or, at the very least, want to see how their story ends.  If I don’t care about them, I won’t finish the book.

Therefore, first, assemble your main cast.  If you’re writing a police procedural, you’ll have a detective, a police chief who the detective may/may not get along with, a victim(s), and main suspects.

But consider your cast of characters carefully.  Ideally, you should stick to the bare minimum otherwise your book will become flabby, and your focus on the main players will be lost.  If you have too many characters, could two of them become one?  Could one of them be entirely written out?

Having established who you’ll be writing about, you must know your main characters inside out.  Ideally, even if it’s irrelevant to your story, you should know their favourite foods, what music they like, what sports they watch.  You must understand their mannerisms, how they speak, how they walk.  You are the keeper of their innermost secrets.

Life stories

Because you must know their back stories: where they went to school, what they’ve done in life.  In other words, you must know the life stories that have taken them from birth to the start of your story.

You also have to know their personality faults: what’s happened to them to make them how they are.   Are they hiding something?  Are they running away from something?

But don’t make your characters all good or all bad.  People are not two-dimensional like that.  We’re all motivated to some degree by self-interest or ambition. For example, the detective solving the murder may be hoping for promotion.

We may be motivated by other things – by money, longing, for forgiveness for past misdeeds.  Those motivations are myriad, and can be obvious or subtle.  Back stories make characters come to life, because your characters have had lives before your story starts.

If you need help getting started, Creating Writers has two creative writing courses, an introductory course and our flagship Diploma course – with a real qualification at the end of it.

They’re intended to give you the confidence and skills to understand what makes great writing.

It could be the start of a whole new journey.

For more information, you can contact us here.

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