Who Are These People? – Making Characters Come Alive, Part 3

The site for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction includes novel evaluation standards, one section dealing specifically with characters. The first one is this:

    Does the main character have clear internal and external goals?

Any number of writing instructors emphasize the need for characters to have objectives. I tend to think the presence or absence of goals is a key factor in whether or not a reader identifies with the protagonist. Identifies in the sense that he cheers for the character or pulls for him emotionally.

It’s hard to hope for a character’s success if the character is aimless. Even when crisis comes and the character reacts, a reader might hope the efforts are successful, but in the back of her mind, she knows they will be, at least early in a book, or there would be no story. So tension is low. Unless the character is taking the lead and initiating a plan. Then the reader wants to see if it will work, and invests emotionally in the process.

Goals won’t necessarily be static. A character might have one goal early, only to learn and therefore adjust the goal or even take off in the opposite direction.

If a book is to have a lasting impact, the objectives need to be multi-pronged, with an internal as well as external dimension.

Brandilyn Collins did an excellent series on character objectives, or desires, as she names it, on her blog Forensics and Faith. (The link takes you to one excellent article, but if you’d like to read the whole series, go to her archives and start with July 25, 2005.)

The point is, during the revision process, if not during the planning stage, be sure your character has a goal, objective, desire, and not just a reaction to crisis.



Filed under Characters

2 responses to “Who Are These People? – Making Characters Come Alive, Part 3

  1. Ryan Paige Howard

    What an awesome website! Thanks for the advice Becky 🙂

  2. Thanks for your encouragement, Ryan. I’m having fun with the writing tips. It helps me think about the nuts and bolts of what I’m doing. 😉


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