Tuesday, December 4

Before You Start Writing Test Your Characters: Are They Strong Enough?

Before You Start Writing Test Your Characters: Are The Strong Enough?

Martina, over at Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing, has written a fantastic post on characterization, one of the best I've read: Characters We Love to Write (And Read!).

One of the things that immediately vaulted it into the 'must read' category is her Character Brainstorming Worksheet. It's amazing! No, I'm not overstating it, go and take a look.

I encourage you to read Martina's article, but if you'd like a sample, here are some highlights:

Test Your Characters Before You Write Them

A lot of things--television, the internet, family, friends, email, the list goes on--compete with you for your reader's time so you'll need strong characters, well-designed characters, to keep their interest.

How do you know if your main characters have what it takes? Martina advises testing them.  Like Anubis with his scales, weigh them to see if they're wanting before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). You'll save yourself a LOT of time.

This idea makes so much sense I can't believe I've never thought of it in those terms before. We test students to see whether, for instance, they're ready to graduate, why not test characters to see if they're book ready?

1. Active versus Passive

- Does your character do things in service of an overall goal or
- Does your character do things because she's trying to avoid something bad?

When I was a kid most of my stories--now safely boxed under my bed--had my protagonist running form bad things, not out there making stuff happen because she had her own goals.

2. Neither too strong nor too weak

Too weak: If your protagonist always needs rescuing and breaks down sobbing at any hit of trouble ... well, that's not interesting. Readers want to read about protagonists who grit their teeth and spit (or at least snark) in the face of trouble, even though they do fail occasionally.

Too strong: The opposite isn't good either--in fact it might be worse! If your protagonist is TOO good then there's no real conflict, no tension. We know they're going to win.

I'm going to stop there. Martina has a lot more to say about characterization and I highly recommend her article. Also, don't forget to check out the many links in her "More Information" section at the end of her post.

Thanks to Elizabeth S. Craig for tweeting a link to Martina's post!

Other links you might like:
- Dean Wesley Smith's Advice To Indie Authors For 2013: How To Sell Fiction
- Does Amazon KDP Select Drive Away True Fans?
- Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments

Photo credit: "Olympus E-PL1 + Canon 50mm F1.4 FD" by 55Laney69 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. Her 'over the top' comment resonated. I can remember seeing that often in criticisms.... I'm with her. Who wants to read about the next door neighbor.

    ...btw...loved the image you selected here. Gorgeous. I need to spend more time in Flickr

    1. Yes, that's great advice. I especially liked what she wrote about vile characters being likable--in a way--if we show that the thing we don't like about them is what's holding them back.

      Thanks! That's one of my favs too. I use Flickr Storm to search through Flickr:


    2. Hi Karen,

      Thanks so much for the kind words! And you may have liked pro tags in dire circumstances when you were a kid, but both Jim Butcher and Kim Harrison write pro tags who put themselves into danger because they follow their hearts and make things happen. They're two of my faves!



    3. Awesome article Martina! Love your blog.

      Jim Butcher and Kim Harrison are two of my favorite authors! In fact (laugh) I finished NaNoWriMo on the 26th because Jim Butcher's Cold Days was coming out on the 27th!


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