I was looking at maps of Ireland this morning, planning on a trip to the Emerald Island this summer. It reminded me of the old Irish story about the leprechaun who is captured. To obtain his release, he has to tell his captor where the leprechaun’s pot of gold is hidden. He tells the man that it is buried at the base of a tree and promises to tie a yellow ribbon around the tree if the man will free him. The man releases the leprechaun. The next morning the man races to the forest. To his dismay, every tree has a yellow ribbon tied around it. The leprechaun has kept his promise. But the man has no idea which tree is the right one.
The man was expecting an exceptional tree, one which stood out. One with a yellow ribbon tied around it.
Your readers are expecting a protagonist who stands out. An exceptional person, a character she will remember. Your goal is to create memorable characters. So, I would ask you to write “Eccentric” on a card and pin it above your computer. Then, aim to craft eccentric characters for your protagonist, sidekick, and antagonist. The dictionary defines eccentric as “deviating from the norm.” You need characters that deviate from the norm, who stand out, who are…memorable. If your character looks like everybody else’s character, why will the reader remember your character?
William Doonan’s Grave Passage has an octogenarian detective who falls asleep. He forgets things. But you remember him. Eccentric.
Lisa Brackman, in Rock, Paper, Tiger, has a Viet Nam veteran with PTSD. But her character is a female. That’s different. Most of the stories dealing with PTSD center on male vets. You’ll remember her.
Take a look at your protagonist. Is she like a lot of other characters you’ve met in other books? What is different about her? Yes, she has a different task to accomplish, but is she different? Is she memorable? Or is she just another tree with a yellow ribbon tied around her, like all the other trees?
Then, ask yourself, how can I make her different? How can I make her stand out? No, having a father who wanted a boy does not make her different. No, many kids have a mother who abuses alcohol or drugs. Yes, you can use those, but you must interject something to make this protagonist different, unique, eccentric, memorable.
The sidekick offers great opportunities. She doesn’t have to save the world, or the project, or anything. She will help the protagonist. But it’s not her fight. She can be truly distinctive.
Look at your antagonist. Is he or she memorable? Or is he just like another rotten peach in the orchard? It’s not enough to create another mean person. Craft a unique villain.
The plot of a novel can be considered the engine. Without it, the book goes nowhere. But the characters are the heart of the novel. Without memorable characters, who cares where the story goes? What causes a person to seek the next book in a series? The characters. Make your characters eccentric, unique, memorable.
Take a lesson from the leprechaun. If your character looks, sounds, acts like everyone else, not only will she not stand out, she’ll be lost in the woods.
These ideas come from Callan’s book on character development -- Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel. The second edition is available in paperback and Kindle editions. Check it out at: http://amzn.to/19l69jd
Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel
This eighty page book lays out what you need to do to develop memorable characters, and tells you how to do it. With clear explanations and examples, Callan presents a clear road map to creating characters your readers will connect with, love (or hate) and tell their friends about. In addition, most chapters end with exercises to help you put into practice what was covered in the text.
Chapters cover such things as—
· considerations if this character will be part of a series
· the importance of selecting the right name
· setting the goals for you character
· the importance of first impressions
· the power of internalization, and the dangers
· how similies & metaphors can enhance your character
· the fourth dimension
· conflict, the necessary element
· why you want a sidekick for your protagonist, and what you don’t want
· why you must have a strong antagonist
· how to make character bios
· and much more.
“I am impressed, because it’s absolutely the best book I’ve read so far on character development.” Ginnie Siena Bivona, former Acquisition Editor for The Republic of Texas Press, and Publisher at Atriad Press.
About James R. Callan:
After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing. He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books. He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his sixth book release in Spring, 2015.
Amazon Author page: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG