I never expected to stumble upon a fiction author who would deny the necessity of a character transformation arc in stories until it happened.
In talking about the importance of character growth and how to show that growth in fiction, a voice spoke up from the back to say, “Not all characters change. Not all even need to change, like Sherlock Holmes. He’s the same in every book.”
But the author’s comment made me pause.
Is it actually possible to have a character move through an entire story without being changed whatsoever?
Even the unchanging Sherlock Holmes showed incremental character growth in “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,” when the usually cold and distant detective shows true concern for Watson.
“You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!”
It was worth a wound – it was worth many wounds – to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.
But largely, the author was correct. Sherlock Holmes did not show growth of character in all stories. Not even close.
Some stories have flat arcs, which I discussed last week, and this arc describes Sherlock Holmes, Hercules Poirot, James Bond, even Indiana Jones. And while readers of these heroes initially fell in love with the mystery of their stories, the characters became the faces of the type of story they were reading, be it murder mystery, treasure hunt, or something else.
Most, however, do have character transformation arcs.
And especially today, in the digital age where authenticity reigns supreme, character transformation is a major tool for bridging the gap and creating an immersive, emotionally intelligent connection between character and reader.
That emotional connection usually relies on the character’s transformation. And at the heart of your character’s transformation arc lies their character — the intrinsic, moral and ethical principles which make a person who they are, the parts they display with their personality.
This week’s writing advice is all about character. So unless you’re that one guy in the back standing atop the unchanging Sherlock Holmes hill, let’s dig in!
First up for the week, find 7 Tips To Craft Compelling Character Motivation In Fiction by C. S. Lakin for Helping Writers Become Authors. This article starts by going over character motivation to inform and defend the plausibility of the plot — a great nugget of advice in itself.
But the article goes on to show why and how characters are the lifeblood of each story. Lakin asks you to assess how you present your character’s physical appearance, desires, and core need, and urges you to give your character room to explore and breathe so readers can relate to them.
Now, don’t go on an info-dump rampage and litter your story with character descriptions and explanations. The key to creating relatable characters exists in delivering the right information at the right time.
No pressure, right?
Taking away some of that pressure is Philip Athans for Fantasy Author’s Handbook, who tells you to Describe Characters As You Go Along, which is especially good advice if this is your first book and you haven’t quite figured out the lay of the proverbial land yet. Placing small details about your character in the moment is an art and should depend on the immediate scene at hand.
Athans provides an example of how to actually do this using a comic book from the late 1930s — and probably earned some cool-kid points just for incorporating comic books into a discussion that is largely novel-centric.
And if there’s one piece of Philip’s advice I love, it’s that not all details matter. When I coach authors through writing and revisions, I talk to them often about paring down details to the ones readers need. This often means trimming your character details list to about a quarter of its original size and getting comfortable leaving the rest to readers to figure out for themselves.
Readers get it, they really do.
But if there’s one clear detail your readers need, it’s the one they can’t get from physical descriptions or explanation: Your character’s voice.
Development of voice means getting into your character’s head — to hear their thoughts and how they think, to capture their tone and general disposition, to learn how their backstory affects them, and more.
E. S. Foster for A Writer’s Path provides you with How To Establish A Character’s Voice, and to do this effectively, you’ll need explore the ins and outs of what makes your character who they are beyond their personality driven behaviors. While Foster talks about the importance of defining who you want your character to be, I’m of the mindset that your characters should tell you who they are.
A slow-living homesteader speaks and thinks differently than a Wall Street executive.
A twelve-year-old child speaks and thinks differently than a burned-out 40-something ER nurse.
A bitter paper-pusher speaks and thinks differently than the person who just opened the shop downtown.
If needed, revisit Characters Are People Too and consider taking them out to dinner. You know, to get to know them better. You never know what you’ll learn about a two-dimensional person you thought you created.
And when you’ve listened to your character speak, figured out the precise details you must include about them, and have detailed stylistic notes about your character’s speech and thought patterns that make up their voice, wrapping all those bits up to create a story that packs an emotional punch is the ultimate goal.
After all, readers become hooked when they feel the story, when they experience the story — not when they’re merely reading and turning pages for the sake of finishing something.
And that assumes they’re actually finishing.
To punch up the future reader’s emotional investment, check out Increasing The Emotional Impact Of Your Story by Angela Ackerman for Writers In The Storm. Ackerman provides a detailed list of strategies to use, none of which should be a surprise, but all of which are important for writing a novel that punches your readers right in the ventricular meat.
And underneath the message in the article is the foundational idea that your character’s lesson learned should be relatable for readers, even if the plot and world are fantastical. So help your readers find common ground, and off they’ll go.
Now, in talking about character, most of you likely assume I’m talking about the hero of the story. And for the most part, perhaps I am. But if your hero is going to have something worthwhile to fight for, they’re going to need a worthy opponent to battle to get it. Remember: failure is human, but so is a good ole fight once in a while.
Lauren Davish for BookBaby Blog gives us an article titled, Protagonist Vs. Antagonist: A Guide To Writing Characters, and Davish’s advice applies whether your villain is a person, a psychological state of being, a social issue, or something out of another dimension.
Since your antagonist is the driving force of the conflict of your story, the thing or person that holds your hero back, who causes the hero some serious turmoil, you’ll need to understand the motivations and goals of both hero and villain to figure out how best to pit them against each other.
But you know one person who needs no adversary? You!
Karen Whiting for The Write Conversation reminds you to Add Joy To Author Marketing. Because after your book is written and ready for the world, you have to tell people it’s ready and get them interested in reading it. And though you may believe that the universe delivers its gifts in due time, most of us aren’t excited about the prospect of posthumous recognition, the way of Thoreau, Kierkegaard, or Dickinson.
And if you want to reach readers, you have to participate in marketing. Marketing is the path you take to curate your future reading audience, and you’ll need to define what your audience looks like. After all, “my book is for everyone” written into a proposal or pitch is likely to land your submission in the circular file.
Consider what makes your target readers happy, what makes them laugh. Share with them anecdotes about your joy during writing or revisions. Share your readers stories about what your book meant for them. Those warm-and-fuzzy feelings travel far, even if your story is anything but warm and fuzzy.
And sharing joy with the world — or, if not the world, than with your readers — can become a mark of your character.
As always, there was a lot of advice I couldn’t share this week, so check the links below for added nuggets of wisdom.
More Productivity and Motivational Advice from the Past Week
- 5 Things I Learned From Writing 50k Words Of A Novel In Just 1 Month by Lucy V Hay for Bang2write
- 6-Step Success Blueprint For A Great Writing Year by Jenny Hansen for Writers In The Storm
- A Practice Has A Space by Steven Pressfield for Steven Pressfield
- Are You Working Too Hard? by Daphne Gray-Grant for Publication Coach
- Assessing Writing Feedback: Criticism, Commentary, And Critique by Tiffany Yates Martin for FoxPrint Editorial
- Beyond BICHOK: How, When And Why Getting Your Butt Out Of The Chair Can Make You A Better Writer by Sarah Chauncey for Jane Friedman
- Future-Proof Your Writing Goals by Jan O’Hara for Writer Unboxed
- Goal Setting For Writers: A 3-Step Process To Achieve Success by Dave Chesson for Kindlepreneur
- How Some Writing Advice Can Actually Hurt You by Chloe-Anne Ross for A Writer’s Path
- How To Be Sensibly ‘All In’ With Your Writing by Daphne Gray-Grant for Publication Coach
- Video: How to Lure Your Muses with Leftie Aubé by Rachael Herron for Rachael Herron YouTube channel
- Video: How To Plan For Your Dream Author Career by Michael Evans for Subscriptions for Authors
- How To Stop Procrastinating by Ann Gomez for Publication Coach
- Video: How To Write More Words In 2024 by Abbie Emmons for Abbie Emmons
- How To Write When You’re Scared by Rochelle Melander for Write Now Coach!
- Video: My Secret Weapon For Writing More In 2024 by Brenden Pugh for Writing Quest
- Novel Writing Pitfalls: Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes by Savannah Gilbo for Fiction Writing Tips
- Podcast: Organizing Chaos With Sophie Beal And Gary Dalkin by Matt Bird for The Secrets of Story
- Setting Writing Goals – Keeping It Simple by Alex J. Cavanaugh for Insecure Writer’s Support Group
- Podcast: The One Where Author Jami Attenberg Provides Gold To Help You Hit Your Word-Count Goals And Get Your Book To The Finish Line by J.D. Barker, Christine Daigle, JP Rindfleisch, and Kevin Tumlinson for Writers, Ink.
- Write With Intention And Discover Your Power by Lynette Burrows for Writers In The Storm
More Craft Advice for the Week
- 7 Tips To Craft Compelling Character Motivation In Fiction by C. S. Lakin for Helping Writers Become Authors
- Describe Characters As You Go Along by Philip Athans for Fantasy Author’s Handbook
- What Is LGBTQ+ Fiction—And Does A Writer Have To Be Queer To Write It? by Amy Koerner for Jane Friedman
- A Character Death: Ideas To Further Your Plot by Scott McCormick for BookBaby Blog
- Facing Fears, And Writing Unique Characters With Barbara Nickless by Joanna Penn for The Creative Penn
- Turn Your Readers Into Detectives by Marissa Graff for Writers Helping Writers
- Increasing The Emotional Impact Of Your Story by Angela Ackerman for Writers In The Storm
- Critiquing: Giving And Getting The Gold by Josh Langston for A Writer’s Path
- How To Make Setting Work For You by Iris Yamashita for Career Authors
- 3 Things Writers Need To Know About Voice by Gabriela Pereira for DIY MFA
- When Series Go Wrong by Dave King for Writer Unboxed
- How To Write Captivating Beginnings And Brilliant Endings For Novels by Jennifer Moorman for Writer’s Digest
- Your Scene’s First Page — The Essentials by C. S. Lakin for Live Write Thrive
- Do You Have Any Tips For Giving Feedback? by Chris Winkle for Mythcreants
- Decoding The Hero’s Journey by Arja Salafranca for Now Novel
- The Chronology Of Story: Flashbacks by Kay DiBianca for Killzoneblog.com
- Who Is My Antagonist? by DiAnn Mills for The Write Editing
- Video: Three Techniques For Space Fantasy Travel That Aren’t Boring by Marie Mullany for Just In Time Worlds
- Outlining Finesse, Part 1 by Stephen Geez for Story Empire
- The Life Changing Magic Of Researching Just Enough by Emily Schultz for Career Authors
- Podcast: From Page To Screen: How To Adapt Your Novel Into A Screenplay by Thomas Umstattd Jr. for Author Media
- Video: How To Write A Book With AI In 2024 (2 Best Methods) by Jason Hamilton for The Nerdy Novelist
- How To Establish A Character’s Voice by E. S. Foster for A Writer’s Path
- How to Write Description When You Hate Writing Description by Janice Hardy for Fiction University
- Our AI Dissects The Bestsellers Of 2023 by JD Lasica for Authors A.I.
- Podcast: Lady Bird: writing female protagonists by Valerie Francis and Melanie Hill for Story Nerd
- Protagonist Vs. Antagonist: A Guide To Writing Characters by Lauren Davish for BookBaby Blog
- Video: Does Your First Chapter Contain These 3 Must-Haves? by Shirley Jump for Write Better Fiction with Shirley Jump
- Here’s To Them Who Have Gone Before! Using Antecedents by N.L. Holmes for Florida Writers Association Blog
- How To Get Your Plot Arcs Working Together by Chris Winkle for Mythcreants
- Video: How To Write Multiple Plot Lines by Brandon McNulty for Writer Brandon McNulty
- Video: Adverbs Are Fine! by Philip Athans for Fantasy Author’s Handbook Channel
- Character Type & Trope Thesaurus: Phony Politician by Becca Puglisi for Writers Helping Writers
- Breaking Down Point Of View — Which One Is Right For You? by Michael James for A Writer’s Path
- How Many Characters Do You Really Need In Your Story? by Stavros Halvatzis for Stavros Halvatzis
- Introducing A New POV by Glen C. Strathy for How to Write a Book Now
- Building Character And Interpersonal Relationships In A Novel Series by Mary Balogh for Writer’s Digest
- Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Confusing Open Endings And Cliffhangers by Michael Woodson for Writer’s Digest
- Podcast: Oxenfree And Branching Narratives by Oren Ashkenazi and Bunny for Mythcreants
- Who Wins: Cloud Roads, Murderbot, Or Witch King? by Oren Ashkenazi for Mythcreants
- What Writers Can Learn From L.A. Confidential by James Scott Bell for Killzoneblog.com
- Video: Ex Machina by Stavros Halvatzis for Get Writing
- Podcast: Building Character, Enhancing POV, And Principles Of (E)Motion With Author Sarah Read by Julie Kingsley and Jessica Sinsheimer for Manuscript Academy
- 6 Tips For Writing A Compelling First Sentence by Deanna Martinez-Bey for Writer’s Digest
- 5 Ways To Start A Story: Choosing A Bold Beginning by Jordan Kantey for Now Novel
- Is Your Writing Falling Foul Of ‘Moral Perfectionism’? Find Out Here by Lucy V Hay for Bang2write
More Business Advice for the Week
- Designing Eye-Catching Book Covers — Fiction by Robbie Cheadle for Story Empire
- Ai Agreements And Ongoing Debates Including Openai’s Response To New York Times Lawsuit by Dan Holloway for Self Publishing Advice
- Promote Your Book At The Library by Jodi Webb for WOW! Women On Writing Blog
- Adding Joy To Author Marketing by Karen Whiting for The Write Conversation
- Science Fiction And Fantasy Publishers In 2024 — No Agent Required by Bryn Donovan for Bryn Donovan
- Self-Publishing A Book: 6 Critical Things Every Author Must Prepare For by Penny Sansevieri for Author Marketing Experts, Inc.
- Where To Sell Short Stories: 7 Places That Pay by Jackie Pearce for Make a Living Writing
- 7 Kindle Keywords: Use All 50 Characters Or Not? by Dave Chesson for Kindlepreneur
- How To Choose The Right Kindle Keywords And Reach More Readers by Dave Chesson for Kindlepreneur
- Are Writing Contests Worth It? by Debbie Burke for Killzoneblog.com
- How To Balance Writing For The Market And Writing For Yourself by Nathan Bransford for Nathan Bransford
- Help! I’m A Writer! How Do I Open Doors? by Katy Segrove for Pick Up Your Pen
- Should Writers Follow The Yellow Brick Road Of Podcasting? by Jennifer Hallmark for The Write Conversation
- Podcast: Author Advice From 2023 For A Better 2024 by Michael Woodson for Writer’s Digest
- 14 New Agents Seeking Genre Fiction, Nonfiction, Memoir, YA, LGBT, Children’s Books And More by Erica Verrillo for Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity
- Video: Book Translation And Forieign Rights Deals – A Conversation With Dropcap by Julie Broad for Book Launchers
- Video: 2024 Amazon KDP Self-Publishing Step-By-Step Upload Tutorial by M.K. Williams for M.K. Williams
- Podcast: Stuart Grant Designs Compelling Websites For Authors by Howard Lovy for Self Publishing Advice
- Navigating Amazon’s New 3 Category Limit: A Step-by-Step Guide for Authors by Susan U. Neal for The Write Conversation
- Podcast: Unlock The Secrets To Bestselling Book Success In 2024 by Penny Sansevieri for Author Marketing Experts, Inc.
- Illustrations Or Photography: How To Choose The Right Book Cover Art by Althea Storm for The Book Designer
- Podcast: Writers Guild Is Ready To Discuss Blanket License For AI by Dan Holloway for Self Publishing Advice
- Indie Author Essentials: 12 Tips To Kickstart Your Publishing Journey by Cameron Chapman for The Book Designer
- Video: How Does IngramID Help You Sell Books? by Julie Broad for Book Launchers
- Video: You’re Titling Your Books Wrong by Dale L. Roberts for Self-Publishing with Dale
- Video: Why Do Published Books Break The Rules? by Shaelin Bishop for Reedsy
- Moving Beyond ‘Likes’ To Real Connections With Readers by Dan Blank for WeGrowMedia
- Video: 7 Social Media & Website Mistakes Authors Make by Shelby Leigh for Marketing by Shelby
We subscribe to more than 200 writing advice sites and gather the best posts for you every single Sunday. You can see all the previous writing advice of the week posts here and subscribe to the RSS feed for this writing advice series here (direct Feedly signup link).
Are we missing any writing advice sites? Email [email protected] or leave a note in the comments below.
Or watch me discuss this week’s writing advice on video:
Edited by Melody Friedenthal