Today, we have the lovely Jaclyn Dolamore with us. Her newest book, The Vengeful Half has just been released, and we’ll be posting our review soon. Until then, Jaclyn is sharing with all of us some tips on writing characters.
4 Tips for Writing Compelling Characters by Jaclyn Dolamore
The Vengeful Half is my sixth book, so I’ve written a lot of characters in the past, but my favorite character that I’ve written so far is Alfred Brawder, who is the male POV in this book. The fact that I enjoy writing Alfred so much has led me to consider why I find him so enjoyable to write. And out of that, I have some tips to help my future self improve future books, and maybe for you to improve your writing too!
1. He has a lot of problems, and his biggest problem is himself.
Every main character should have an obstacle. What is Alfred’s biggest obstacle? Well, for starters, he has been blind since he was a baby from a curse placed upon his family. That sounds like an obstacle. When I was a younger writer, I probably would’ve left that as his major obstacle. But, after all, Alfred grew up being blind and he’s used to it. A bigger obstacle comes in the form of the people around him who underestimate him because of his disability. That’s an obstacle too, but Alfred is pretty confident and good with people, and can usually manage to convince others that he’s capable. No, his biggest obstacle is that he is very proud, and he has a hard time backing away from a situation, even when he should. His pride stems logically from his position, and it leads him to lie, connive, and hurt others in order to maintain his power—which sometimes leads to him hurting even people he loves.
2. He could be a villain just as easily as he could be a hero.
That leads me to point #2. I could write a story from a different POV in which Alfred would seem like the bad guy. The balance between good and bad traits gives him constant inner conflict and keeps me interested in his story. You might think, well, not every story will lend itself to a character who could be a villain. But, there are all sorts of antagonists in the world, if you think about it. In Harry Potter, for example, do you think every kid at Hogwarts was thrilled to have Harry Potter there? Some of them probably got hurt or ignored because of all the crazy stuff that was happening and how Dumbledore paid so much attention to Harry. A question worth considering: How would your main character look from the point of view of someone who didn’t like them? Who might suffer because of your character’s actions?
3. He always wants at least two things that conflict with each other.
Some of the most common advice given in writing books is that a character must want something very badly, and that desire will drive the entire plot. Even better, I think, than writing one thing, is wanting two things that can’t be had at once. Like, “great power” and “a peaceful life”…which is, essentially, what Alfred wants. He wants Olivia, and he wants to give her a good, happy life. But he also wants to ultimately lead an organized crime operation. There is no way he can have both these things. In fact, every character in this story struggles with some variation of that same theme—power vs. happiness and peace. Writing workbooks will always ask you what your theme is. When I write the theme down, I often think, “Well, that’s SO basic, and it’s been done SO many times. How boring! Maybe I should think of a more original theme.” Resist the urge! There are endless variations. I feel that the theme of Harry Potter is, “the most powerful force of all is love.” Well, written out like that, it sounds cheesy and typical. But you can tell that story a gazillion ways. The human mind will never tire of a theme like “love conquers all” or “power vs. happiness” because we have to consider these themes throughout our own lives.
4. He can’t really be summed up in one sentence.
In writing, it’s important to be able to sum up elements in one sentence. And sure, I CAN sum Alfred up quickly. But I personally like a character who has more than one or two “things”. Most blind characters in other stories, for instance…well, that’s their “thing”. I really didn’t want to write a character like that. My partner has psoriatic arthritis and most of his “dialogue” isn’t jokes about arthritis. That would just be WEIRD. Alfred feels more like a real person to me than some other characters I’ve written because he has more than one major character trait, more than one interest, more than one quirk. You don’t want to just pile on all these things randomly, but let them emerge organically from the character, and believe me, it will come more easily for some characters than others. There’s a reason I like Alfred so much—he told me about himself and I didn’t have to ask! But it’s worth spending a little time getting to know a character before you write their story, rather than just going “Cassie is snarky and she wants to be an artist” and leaving it at that. For me, creating music playlists for each major character often helps me get to know them better.
About the Author:
Jaclyn Dolamore has a passion for history, vintage dresses, David Bowie, anime, drawing, and organic food. She is the author of six YA novels, including Magic Under Glass, selected as a Top 10 First Novels for Youth by Booklist. Her new series, starting with The Vengeful Half, takes place in a fantasy world she has been writing about for over twenty years. She lives with her partner and plot guru Dade and three weird cats in a Victorian house in western Maryland.
Mailing List: http://tinyurl.com/JaclynDolamore
About the Book:
Olivia might look human, but she’s grown up with a heavy secret: her mother is a potion-maker who fled her home in a parallel world, the Hidden Lands.
Alfred is the blind, charismatic young heir to the illegal potions trade. When Olivia’s mother is kidnapped by the magic dealers with whom she once made a bad bargain, she has no choice but to trust Alfred’s offer of help. They travel to a strange new world of bootlegged American pop culture, lifelike doll people, and reincarnation. Alfred finds himself putting his position on the line to defend Olivia against his family’s conniving plans. Maybe he has morals…or maybe he’s just falling in love.
When Olivia escapes from an attack by a curiously familiar sorceress, she learns that potion dealers weren’t the only thing Mom was hiding from. Dark secrets lurk in Olivia’s past, and now Olivia must kill or be killed by the girl with whom she once shared everything…