There are several types of books on the market. For fiction, I break them down into three categories:
- Quick reads
- Interesting reads
- Books that you live in
90% of the books out there live in the 1st category. That’s not a bad thing. Many people like a quick read where they aren’t emotionally involved. It’s like a treat they can read through and get back to life. They used to be known as Dime Store books. And if you write that way and enjoy it, good for you – there are a LOT of readers who want just that.
9.9999% of the books go under the Interesting Reads category. There’s more story within the story and you might read it over several days as there’s so much to it. It will stay with you and have you buying the next book in the series, but it’s still not something you are emotionally connected to beyond the novel itself.
Books that you live in
Then there’s the 0.0001% of the books – the ones you have to have no matter what. There’s just no choice. They captivate the reader, hold them in their grasp. This is the kind of book you dream about, think about, wish you could step inside and live. A few books that do that are the Harry Potter, Outlander, and Falls Chance Ranch series. The characters and places become family. And it’s a family you want to live in, love with, and possibly die for.
What I strive for
I can’t speak for other authors, but I strive to write the kind of book that will be in the last group. My earliest works I would put in the first category, my recent works in the Interesting Reads section. As I’ve strived over the last year to learn to write the way I love to read, I have learned so much about myself and about the art of writing that have helped. The books I’m writing are deeper, more captivating, and far more intense than anything I’ve written in the past. I’m hoping (crosses fingers) that when they come out, they fit into the final category.
There are many things that account for the change in my books, but something I’m working on for a new book is a major part of that.
Right now I’m working on the character bios for a new novel I’m working on. Well, technically it’s an old novel that stopped about 20k in and now has new life with a whole new idea. So the old text was scrapped and a brand new outline done.
However, before I write, I have to get to know the characters or they are nothing but names on a page with little else about them. There are many ways to do this – write a short story using that character in 1st POV to get to know them, write a short bio, create a mini bio, or do a sketch.
I think it needs to be broken down even further – into layers of persona or personality.
Types of Characterizations
So, if you’re writing a full novel with multiple subplots, you have more than just two or three characters. You have the main characters, the secondary characters, the supporting characters, and places & things that have personalities of their own.
So with the outline done, I’m now doing the characterization. This will take days and weeks. The main character – my heroine – I got to know really well when I first started writing the other story 3 years ago. I know G well. But with the changes in concept, there are three new main characters that I need to get to know. N, B, and S have to be fully flushed out. So I’ve written mini bios on them and will write short stories with each one as the narrator to truly get a feeling for them.
Before I started the outline, I had already written a short story about the antagonist. Yeah, I know that bastard – let’s call him F – well.
These characters have the most layers of persona. I know them inside and out, how they will react in any situation, their facial expressions, their mannerisms, everything about how they look and dress, their belief systems, their sexual attraction, and their quirks.
Besides the heroine and N, B, and S, I also have a slew of secondary characters that will be in the story enough, they need flushed out as well, though not to the same degree. I need to know their mannerisms, the way they speak, their physical characteristics, and how they react to major emotions.
Secondary characters have almost as many persona layers as main characters – but they aren’t as intense. For instance, I know that A thinks himself as ‘all that’ and walks around with his nose up in the air. While I know his basic background and how he holds himself, I don’t know the particulars – everything that makes A, A. I would compare it as main characters being a fully colored drawing of a character and secondary characters being the drawing with only basic shading put in.
Then there are the supporting characters. Now, for them, I don’t have to know as much. I need a basic physical description as well as the basics about their personalities and why they do what they do, but I don’t need to know them in and out… at least not for this book.
These characters are there to support. In no full world, are there only a couple characters – that’s a very linear storyline and not my kind of thing. But not all characters need known. For instance, in Harry Potter, there are a plethora of students. Some we hear of by name–though we don’t know much about them–and some we just know are there, though they aren’t named. If the main characters are fully colored drawings and secondary characters are those drawings with basic shading, the supporting characters are line drawings and shadows. There is only one or perhaps two levels of persona needed, if that.
Places & Things
Then we get to the places and things. Again, there’s a breakdown of how important those places and things are. For some, I’ll have to write out a complete description and truly get to know the feel of the place. For others only small details are needed. (Think Hogwarts and you’ll get it. That castle had interesting levels of persona – it was a living, breathing entity.)
Places & Things are usually secondary or supporting characters. However, that isn’t always true (See Hogwarts reference). The thing is to understand how much of that place or thing means to the story and where it sits. Then you figure out where it’s layers are. For instance, the main ballroom in the book I’m writing is a place where a lot of different things happen, so it will have more layers than say, the bus G takes to get there.
The final work
The main thing to keep in mind is the layers of persona each person or place or thing needs to have to come alive in the final work. If every person or place or thing was completely flushed out, it would end up overloaded. There are certain details that aren’t needed about a store a character passed by on the street if it will never be mentioned again. Then again, if that store is going to have meaning, those details need to be there. (If Harry hadn’t kept having his scar hurt at certain moments, would we have known it was connected with Lord Voldemort? The house at Falls Chance Ranch is richly portrayed and it’s obvious why as you get further and further into the books. The buildings and animals are just as much a part of FCR as the people.)
Measure of a good book
I have read (and in the distant past unfortunately written) too many books that have no depth. The characters are nothing but things on the page with no physical characteristics, no mannerisms, no feelings, no personality. Which means I cannot connect with them. I know I’m different to many readers now. I don’t count how many books I read per day or week. For me, it’s all about how the book left me feeling. Do I want to read it again? Did the author (did I) leave such an emotional trail that a reader can’t wait for the next book? And as they have to wait, will read and read and read the book over and over until if it was a paperback it would be falling apart?
To me that’s the measure of a good book. Is the reader left with the feeling of friends and family? Are they connected to the characters and places in such a way that they have to revisit often? Are they invested in the characters so much that they bleed for them? (Harry Potter, Falls Chance Ranch are two series that work that way for me. The novel Hexbreaker also does it to me. It’s total immersion into a new ‘old’ world.)
It’s a lot of weight on an author to pull such a book out of the ether, let alone a whole series where each book is better than the last. I hope I’m getting there at some point. I know I’m becoming a better writer, but am still learning and shaping my writing.
In the book I’m characterizing, I hope I give it and them enough personality that readers want to live in the world I’m building forever.
So here’s to better writing, better characterization and…. Here’s to books with more personality!