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Know Jack #313 It’s Alive!

I love stories with great characters. Of course, a story has to have a plot, something has to happen between the cover of the book. So, a strong plot is critical, However, great characters can lift a mediocre plot while mediocre characters will drag down a good plot.

There are times in my writing when I do not know where the story will end. Without giving away the ending, my book, Bayou Moon, was nearly complete before I knew how it would end.

How can that be? Characters that live. The author doesn’t write them so much as be them, get inside their skin, and “see” what they are doing or how they will react in a given situation. No, I’m not kidding.

The truly hard part of this process is living with what the characters do because that is you inside their skin and what they do reflects on you. A great character looks a bit like you and thinks a bit like you. You may not care to admit it to friends, but that character maybe that part of you that the world never sees.

We may hide our eyes when the seven deadly sins appear on the page, but we all know them even if they do not rule our lives. When we write, we are letting the world have a glimpse at not only the good and noble parts of us but the villainous parts as well. Not everyone is willing to do this.

From those who are not willing to do that we get river rock characters, smoothed by fear, intimidation, and correctness. Real characters, like real people, have sharp edges. So do good stories.

Writing characters is very much like acting in a play. You have to get into the role and write the script as you go, keeping your character as human as possible. Writers build worlds, but we built people too. Like Dr. Frankenstein stitch that character together from people you know, shock the hell out of it, and make it live.

Just a reminder to be real and honest. There is a famous author who has a crime-solving character who seems to have taken a college course in every subject under the sun. She runs into a character who speaks Dutch, but never fear, she has taken Dutch in college.

Romances are notorious for insanely handsome heroes who were soldiers, who became doctors after the war, then millionaire businessmen who also write songs and poetry, and women who are irresistibly beautiful to men and gods alike while practicing astrophysics and speaking twenty languages. We all know people like that, right?

Write what you know—we’ve all heard it. What do we know better than people?


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