Thinking of developing a fiction writing career? It’s almost a decade since Amazon released the Kindle and changed publishing forever. Today, hundreds of thousands of authors are self-publishing millions of books; fiction writing is hugely popular.
I just checked Amazon. In the past 30 days, 114, 000 ebooks were published on the Kindle Store. Of those ebooks, 12,500 were romance fiction (romance is the most popular genre), and 5,500 were mysteries.
Short answer: no.
Consider this: if books weren’t selling, only die-hard, starving authors would be publishing. The competition should excite you, because it means that readers are buying our books.
Let look at some tips on character creation, because the easiest way to start a novel, or a short story, is to start with a single character.
Fiction writing starts with a main character
In the article, Fiction Writing Tips for Beginners: Super-Easy Outlines, we suggested that you start your fiction outline with an image:
Here’s another reason to start with an image: an image has built-in emotion – if you choose the right image. Fiction is all about emotion. No emotion? You’ve got nothing. Your idea, no matter how wonderful, will fizzle out. Or you’ll have a bunch of weird emotions tumbling around, which you can’t get a handle on… and the novel or short story fizzles out.
Some authors find that it’s useful to find an image for their main character, too. You can start with an image which appeals to you, or you can start typing.
I prefer the typing route — I look for images later. Usually the images I find most evocative are images for a setting.
An easy way to create a character
Here’s an easy character creation template:
- Primary external problem
Let’s look at an example: Jenny Caraway, 25, teacher, nervous, bullied by another teacher.
Here’s another one: Jim Rossi, 30, civil engineer, hot-tempered, fired from job.
I didn’t spend any time thinking about those characters. I just started typing. You can do this too. Use the template, and create a few characters. Keep going until one strikes a spark.
Jenny appeals to me, so I might do a little more work with her.
Show your character’s everyday life: the Primary External Problem disrupts it
Since Jenny’s main external problem is that she’s being bullied by another teacher, your job is to show Jenny at school. Your character’s journey starts in her everyday life. You must build sympathy and liking for your main character — readers need to get to know her, before they can care what happens to her.
At this stage, I like to create the character who’s the antagonist — the main character’s opposition. The antagonist is in many ways, even more important than your main character. You need a strong antagonist, otherwise your novel or short story will be much ado about nothing.
An antagonist… OK, Lola Fairfield, 45, new school principal. Her primary attribute is ruthlessness. Her primary external problem is Jenny — she hates Jenny because Jenny had an affair with her former husband. Lola intends making Jenny’s life a misery.
Poor Jenny. Her main attribute is nervousness; her antagonist is ruthless.
Fiction is all conflict, all the time: choose a genre
You may be thinking that Jenny is seriously overmatched by Lola, but this is a good thing. Fiction is all conflict, all the time. Your aim always needs to be to make your main character suffer. 🙂
Think about your favorite novels. My favorite novel is Gone With The Wind, where poor Scarlett O’Hara contends with the Civil War.
When you’re beginning your fiction writing career, fight the temptation to make life easy for your characters. Ramp up the conflict (without becoming melodramatic), and readers will love it.
Now’s the time to choose a genre.
Jenny’s story could be:
- A romance: Jenny finds the love of her life, Lola’s mission is to destroy her romance, to make Jenny suffer;
- Fantasy: the school is a school for wizards — shades of Harry Potter. Lola is a literal dragon;
- A mystery: another teacher is found murdered at the school. Lola ensures that Jenny is the prime suspect;
- A Western… Etc.
Once you have a couple of characters, and a conflict, you can choose any genre which appeals.
Outline, or start writing? Focus on the EMOTION
Will you start writing immediately?
That depends on you. Once I have a main character, a BIG problem for the character, and an antagonist, I start writing. I’m a pantser, pretty much. That said, I rely on my intuition. Should some good ideas magically arrive, I might outline the major plot points (beats) of the novel.
It doesn’t matter what you do, whether you outline or not, as long as you remember to focus on the emotion. Readers read fiction to escape, to experience an alternate reality. Your genre will tell you the primary emotions for which you’re aiming.
New authors often ask me about character questionnaires, and long bios. I’ve never found them useful. I don’t care about my character’s favorite movie, or favorite color. Characters are what they do, so it’s best to show them in action. Just remember each character’s primary attribute. Your main characters will change and develop as you write your story.
Give this easy character creation method a try — it’s a lot of fun. 🙂
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