Too much description…too little description. Your character seems stiff (no pun intended). Your character is boring. The protagonist lacks connective qualities. The antagonist does not seem very antagonistic. 

Any of that sound familiar?

Character development, for me, is the hardest part of writing. I am finished with the second draft of my first book and will soon be giving it to about eight people for their verdict. Honestly? I’m scared to death of what they will say about the characters.

My background is not fiction writing. Far from it. Everything I have written has been pure non-fiction. Political science papers, APSA formatting. Education papers, APA formatting. No first person, no feelings, no twists, turns, or loops. Just factual writing based on solid research. I was good at it. I was so good that one of my jobs as a graduate assistant was to edit professional papers and books. All non-fiction and research based.

Making the switch to fiction was hard. It took me a while to flip the switch. Contractions had been pounded out of me to the point that my finger still has a hard time finding the apostrophe button. Using “I” would have gotten me shot. Same goes with using “he” and “she.” This certainly makes for some good writing, as long as you are turning it in to be peer-reviewed. It does not work well for fiction.

Following non-fiction guidelines for writing makes for tough fiction reading. Our brains function differently when reading each type. If we are reading non-fiction, we expect the syntax and grammar that comes with it. It doesn’t feel awkward. If we grab a fiction novel off the shelf and the author follows those strict guidelines, then it will feel like we are reading something a robot wrote (maybe SIRI).

It has been extremely difficult for me to break my own rules and switch to fiction. I think I have it down now, but I hope I’m able to switch back when I need to. Anyway, back to character development. That, too, is a skill that non-fiction does not teach you. There are no characters to develop in research papers and books. I struggled with what to do about that until a few days ago.

In researching and publishing in a journal, you have to develop an argument (not necessarily a conflict, but argument as in stating a point). In many ways, developing an argument and developing a character are similar. Both have to have an introduction. Both have to have background information conveyed and explained subtly yet forcefully. Both have to build and create themselves throughout the work and conclude with dignity. Most importantly, both an argument and a character have to stand on the work put into them once the story is complete. They have to stand strong and leave the reader convinced of their authenticity.

Unfortunately, I made that connection after I finished the first draft of my book. Hopefully my subconscious mind made the connection for me as I was writing. Breaking into fiction was hard. I considered myself to be a good non-fiction researcher and writer, not a story teller. Now I want to tell some stories. I can only hope that I make my characters come alive in my readers’ minds.

Has anyone else had this problem. Maybe you are great at fiction and not so great at non? Let me know in the comments!