I don’t know about you, but I read fiction for the characters and the adventure those characters go through. Like most readers, I want vivid heroes who draw me into their situations and, often when I don’t get into the main character, I put the book aside. But how do writers create those attention-grabbing heroes?
Here’s what some of my favorite writing experts have to say.
- First, don’t create a wimp. Follow Jack Bickham’s advice from 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. “Fiction writers too often forget that interesting characters are almost always characters who are active—risk takers—highly motivated toward a goal. Many a story has been wrecked at the outset because the writers chose to write about the wrong kind of person—a character of the type we sometimes call a wimp.”
- In The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, James N. Frey, a writing instructor and author, suggests that heroes have certain qualities that attract readers. Main characters must have courage. Either they start with it or they develop it along the way.
- Fictional heroes need to be clever and resourceful.
- Also, a compelling hero or heroine has a special talent. Something he or she can do better than anyone else in the story. We’re attracted to competence. We tend to pick doctors, mechanics, restaurant chefs and, yes, even fictional heroes because they perform a skill or set of skills exceptionally well.
- Like the previous examples, the heroine in our novels might use her unique talent to make a living and be proficient at her calling.
- An appealing hero is also a person who lives by his own rules. He strives to do what’s right in his mind even if others in the story don’t understand him.
- An effective main character is the focus of the action and the story. She must take the lead in whatever case she embraces.
- In Thanks, but This Isn’t For Us, Jessica Page Morrell, a best-selling author of many books on writing craft, echoes this. She says, “Heroes take charge, take responsibility, and take risks … they’re people of action who speak their minds, kick ass and take names, and, most important, who act when in real life we’d be cowering, or wetting our pants, or scrambling for an exit.”
- Further, she goes on to state, “Heroes dare to be wrong.”
- Equally important the large-and-in-charge heroine—at the center of the story, should be flawed. She or he has been wounded in the past. Perhaps he’s lost a loved one, been injured or lost his faith. He’s vulnerable and in need of healing. He has an event or a series of events in his past he’s got to work through. This brokenness fuels his current goals, makes him human and enables readers to identify with him.
- The hero has to grow and change throughout the story. Often, he strives to become less selfish or self-centered.
- She may even sacrifice herself for the good of others. Frey believes that the most compelling heroines motivated by idealism at some point in the story.
- Lastly, Frey suggests that the hero should be sexually potent. As Frey puts it, “Creating a mythic character without sexual energy is like bringing the burgers, the buns, and the charcoal to the barbecue, and leaving the matches at home.
I love reading stories that feature intriguing characters and I hope these tips will help you when you write your next tale. Also, if you’ve found the suggestions useful, I hope you’ll consider checking out the resources quoted in this article for further study.
Bickham, Jack M. 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. Writers Digest Bks., U.S., 1998.
Frey, James N. The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth. St. Martins Griffin, 2002.
Morrell, Jessica Page. Thanks, but This Isnt for Us. Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2009.
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Mia Jo Celeste comes from a family of writers and English teachers, so it was no surprise when she chose to pursue both careers. Recently, her novel Other Than became a double finalist in the 2018 Prism Contest in the Historical/ Steampunk and Best First Book Categories.
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It’s Promotion Thursday for March. Check out where you can find our WisRWA authors this month.
Molly Maka will be presenting The World of the 20th Century: The First 50 Years at the RWA National Conference in Denver, CO on July 19 at 10:40 AM.
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My neighbors are blowing stuff up in the cul-de-sac while my dog cowers under a chair, so that can only mean one thing: it’s July, and conference time is almost here. As the fireworks settle down and the picnic leftovers run out, romance writers everywhere are preparing (aka getting mani/pedis) to head to the annual national conference hosted by Romance Writers of America.
I’ve attended five RWA national conferences: as a wide-eyed newbie in 2013, a chapter president in 2014 and 2015, and a Golden Heart ® finalist in 2016 and 2017. Now, as I get ready to attend my sixth “Nationals” this year, with my shiny new PAN pin on my badge, I thought it would be a great time to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way.
I know. Articles about how to prepare for conferences abound. They spring up on the internet this time of year like mattress sales (what is it about patriotic holidays and selling mattresses, anyway?). So why should you keep reading this one? Well, remember how agents and editors are always saying they want “the same, but different?” This is kind of like that. I’m going to take five traditional pieces of conference advice, and add a little something different, my own little spin, collected over the five years I’ve attended Nationals.
- Drink Lots of Water: Hotels are H2O vampires, sucking all moisture from the air, your body, hair, and soul. Well, maybe not the last one. But it sure feels like it sometimes. It is important to hydrate often. Carry a water bottle. Refill it at the stations set up in workshop rooms. My spin: if you plan to spend any time at the bar (and I hope you do, it’s one of the best parts of going to cons), pace yourself by having a glass of water between cocktails. I won’t suggest how many drinks to have, you know your own limit (mine is two, yes, it’s sad) so if the conversation and drinks end up flowing late into the night, I maintain an air of fun for myself by drinking water out of a wine glass.
- Carry Business Cards: You’ve followed all the advice and spent way too many hours designing the perfect business card. Now you have 500 of the darn things and can’t wait to unload them. But shoving your card at people isn’t the best way to network. My spin is to ask other people for their business cards. You’re in line for coffee or waiting for a workshop to start. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Ask them where they are from, what they write…and then ask if they have a card. Nine times out of ten, they do, and will be freaking delighted someone asked for one! And nine times out ten, they will reciprocate and ask for yours. It’s a win-win. PS: if they don’t ask for yours, you can politely offer them one, but don’t be salty about it or you’ll have lost all that feel-good networking mojo.
- Pack Strategically. Historical romance author Erin Knightley has a fabulous video on packing for conferences. I take it a step further and put my packing cubes inside vacuum-seal bags that suck all the air out. Why? They shrink, so I have more room in my suitcase, obvs. But also, they keep everything dry. I will never forget at my first conference, a NYT bestselling author had nothing to wear because her suitcase had been left on the tarmac in a downpour, and all her clothes got soaked, many ruined.
- Yes, many writers are introverts, and during the conference feel pressured to pretend to be extroverts.
The traditional conference pedi.
I’m an extrovert at heart, so this isn’t a problem for me. But if talking to strangers gives you hives, don’t be afraid to use the introverts’ tried and true method of talking to strangers: the internet. Engage in social media while at the conference. Use hashtags like #RWA18 and #RITAGH to post about the conference and share fun pics or nuggets of workshop gold. And maybe you will run across fellow introverts tweeting via the same hashtags and can strike up a conversation that way (and perhaps turn that into an in-person convo at the bar?).
- Schedule Downtime. Introvert or extrovert, over the course of the long conference days we all, as one of my RWA roomies put it, “run out of nice.” For some, recharging batteries means escaping to a dark, quiet hotel room for a nap. For me, I like to go outside for a few minutes and get some fresh air and hopefully a bit of sunshine. Whatever gets your nice levels back up to working levels, take some “me time” and don’t feel like you have to do everything, see everyone, be everywhere.
There you have it! If you are headed to Denver, I hope to see you. Look for me at the bar, I’ll have a wine glass in my hand, and there’s a decent chance it will be filled with water.
Award-winning author Melonie Johnson—aka #thewritinglush—is a two-time RWA Golden Heart® finalist who loves dark coffee, cheap wine, and expensive beer. And margaritas. And mimosas. And mules. Basically any cocktail that starts with the letter m. She met her future husband in that most romantic of places—the mall—when they were teenagers working in stores across the hall from each other. Today, they live happily ever after in the magical land midway between Chicago and Milwaukee with two redhead daughters, a dog that’s more like a small horse, and a trio of hermit crabs. After earning her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago, Melonie taught high school English and Theatre in the northern Chicago suburbs for several year. Now she writes smart and funny contemporary romance and moonlights as an audiobook narrator under the pseudonym, Evelyn Eibhlin. Watch for her contemporary romance debut, THE SOMETIMES IN LOVE series, coming summer 2019 from St. Martin’s Press. Melonie is represented by Pamela Harty of the Knight Agency. A Star Wars junkie and Shakespeare groupie who quotes both Yoda and the Bard with equal aplomb, you can visit her at at her website and find her on Twitter and Instagram at @MelonieJohnson.
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