We’re starting a new series on Pub-Craft’s blog today specifically about what you do best – writing! We get the opportunity to read a wide range of amazing stories in our line of work, and love to pass on the tips and tricks we learn to as many authors as possible! 😉 Our first series, ‘Character Counts!‘, will explore why characters matter, and how you can make each hero and heroine just as unique on the page as they are in your head. On the second Wednesday of every month, pop by this page for musings on building characters and stories direct from the mind of Pub-Craft team member Kate Boone!
Kate, Laurie, and Marissa met at Carleton University, all in different programs, but united by weird hobbies and fate, probably. Kate graduated from Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communications in 2012 with an honours degree in journalism and has worked in the online marketing industry ever since. She is an avid reader (of YA and paranormal, specifically), and is a writer herself. You can learn more about Kate and the rest of the Pub-Craft Team here.
Now, snuggle up with your caffeinated or alcoholic beverage of choice, and let’s talk about character!
Character Counts! – Ep. 1: Breaking the Mold
As a reader, one of the most frustrating things to come across is boring characters. It doesn’t matter if you have the most interesting story or write beautifully – if the characters don’t make me feel something, I won’t be finishing the book. I crave characters that stir up some kind of reaction, good or bad. I want characters that will make me root for them, or make me cry, or even make me stay up until 2 am ranting about how vile they are. The ones that really stand out to me are often those that break the trusty trope or archetype mold. Don’t get me wrong here, archetypes can be really fun and can be nicely plugged into the world and narrative you – the writer – have created, but going a step beyond a simple archetype and really taking the time to flesh out a character is what can make the difference between an okay character and one that is unforgettable.
One of my favourite examples of this is with J.K. Rowling’s portrayal of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. When he was just the wise, all-knowing headmaster, I really didn’t find him to be very interesting. It wasn’t until Rowling began revealing more information about Dumbledore’s life and motivations in the later books that I stopped seeing him as the “wise bearded old man” archetype and became more interested in this multifaceted and ultimately flawed character. (No spoilers for those who after all this time have managed to evade them!)
So, what’s the best way to tackle this? In truth, there is no “right” way to do this, but this blog series will offer a few suggestions on how to take a specific trope and make it more original and interesting, and help get (and keep!) your readers invested in the story. This month, let’s dive right in and take a look at one of the more popular archetypes: the brooding hero.
“But Kate,” you might be thinking, “everyone loves a bad boy! Wanting something that’s bad for us is what makes it such a great fantasy!” And you would be correct, voice I did not just make up. It IS hot, and I will admit that this particular trope is one of my favourites. No arguments here! But I will also say that this trope is done a lot, which means if you want your brooding male protagonist to stand out amongst a sea of other steamy brooders, you need to go the extra step and expand him beyond the archetype.
Not sure if your hero falls too far into trope territory?
Write up two lists: one with a list of three to five character traits that you feel best describe your character, the other with as many character traits you feel fall into the “brooding hero” trope. Be sure to give yourself enough time between lists so that you’re approaching each list with fresh eyes and a clean slate. Next, compare the two lists. How does your character stack up against the archetype?
If you find that most of your hero’s defining traits mainly coincide with your brooding hero list, look at what you can do to tweak your character. Can you change his accent? Hair colour? Ethnicity? What interests does he have? Maybe he secretly enjoys knitting or anime, or he might even have a furry companion he treats more like a roommate than a pet.
You can also ask friends, family and fellow writers who have read your work for an outside perspective. How do they see your character? As a writer, sometimes I’ll have really interesting traits or backstories planned about a character that never make it into my story and I won’t always realize are missing. Having another set of fresh eyes look over my writing and provide input helps me differentiate between what is clear to me, the character’s creator who knows everything about them, versus what is clear to the reader. How visible are the more original and interesting traits you’ve given your character? If the answer to that question is “Not very”, find a way to work those tidbits into your narrative.
I would also recommend checking out @BroodingYAHero on Twitter. The writer behind the Twitter account does a great job of highlighting tongue-in-cheek examples of how the brooding hero behaves, speaks and is described in the book by their author. The tweets are often very funny, and on point, while also showing fellow writers what kinds of things are perhaps a bit too common in this particular trope.
Remember, there is nothing wrong with using this or any other trope, and your goal isn’t necessarily to move away from the trope entirely. At the end of the day the goal should be to make your character even better, which in turn will make your story that much better overall for both you and the reader.
Have comments? Questions? General musings? We want to hear from you! Write us a quick (or long!) note, and we might include your response in an upcoming post…