I want characters that I can sleep with…

Well, I know what you’re expecting. Maybe you think I’ve switched to the erotica genre overnight. As tempting as it sounds to try, I have to admit that I’ve never read anything erotica. Unless you count my inner thoughts as reading. Honestly, if I tried to write it, I would be looking over my shoulder making sure nobody was looking.

Here’s the deal. I’ve been super stressed about character development for my book. It is with four different editors right now, so I’m holding my breath until it comes back. Until then, I’m just trying to figure out what kind of attributes people want in a character and how they want them introduced and developed. I read a blog yesterday of someone that said they had to connect with the main character in some special way within the first few pages or they put it down. Uh oh. I started wondering if my main character could do that. Well, I have two main characters and the other one does not come in until about page twenty. Guess I lost that reader before my book is even published.

So, I did something that I should have done a long time ago. I got all of my favorite books off the shelf and put them on my bed. I’m not talking about the ones that I kind of liked. I’m talking about the ones that stayed with me. The ones that had characters that I felt like I knew as well as the ‘real’ people around me. You know what kind of book I’m talking about. For me, the list was somewhat big and included Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, James Bond, 1984, and ENDER’S GAME. Well, as you can see, I’m mostly a sci-fi guy with a little thriller thrown in, but what made these and a few others so special to me? I cleared off the books and went back to writing, but as I was about to go to sleep, the answer hit me. My head was on the pillow and I was in that “about to fall asleep, so lets go on a thought adventure” state. My adventure included a lightsaber and some sith.

I want characters that I can sleep with! Literally all of the books that I love and cherish made me put myself into their world as I was falling asleep. I have always thrown myself into books I’m reading or have read and added chapters to them with me as a new character. If it’s Star Trek, then I’m right beside Picard and Janeway battling the Borg as Commander Captain Watson. If it’s a Bond book, then I’m 008, fighting the villain right along side 007 (Watson, Allen Watson). All of my favorite characters were ones that I could see myself becoming friends or colleagues with. I lull myself to sleep with the fantasies of becoming one of the major characters beside them.

Now that I know how to recognize my favorite characters, I need to know how to accomplish that as a writer. I want to get readers so involved with the people in my book that the characters stay with them until they open the book again. I want my readers to end a chapter and try to create the next chapter in their mind. Readers have need to find their best friends and greatest enemies inside of books.

So now I’ll be inserting myself into my own book. Before I fall asleep, I’ll become a new character in my own book. I’ll have conversations with the other characters and ask them what they would do next and what they think of developments so far. I’ll find out what their lives are like and how they would like to grow up.

There is no better way to write a book than to get your characters to help you out.


Character Development Stinks! But I Solved the Problem


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!