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Are your books action/plot-driven or are they character driven? Virtually all books are one or the other, and most writers have a preference about how their books are perceived. Personally, I write character-driven novels. That is the case for a large majority of romance writers. We’re looking for motivations and psychological changes to build the romantic tension as we go through our stories, and that makes the work character-driven.

CharactersCharacter-driven stories—which is what I’m going to be considering exclusively in this article—are focused on a few main characters. These are usually a protagonist and an antagonist. In the case of romance novels, the antagonist and protagonist are often the hero and heroine, but sometimes there are three main characters: two protagonists and one antagonist. The antagonist is not always the “bad guy.” He/she is the character whose goals conflict directly with the protagonist. In this way, you can see how a heroine and hero can be protagonist and antagonist though we want the reader to like both parties.

Good writers limit the number of main characters in their novels and stories. This is to make each of the characters more compelling and propel the psychological changes along in an orderly way. In fact, it’s quite a trick to write a compelling novel focused on more than a few main characters. Characters sort of naturally divide themselves up into main and secondary roles.

Main characters, especially protagonists, are characters to whom the reader can relate. The reader wants to understand their feelings and motivations. If you’re not touching the reader with your characters, you’re not fulfilling and enriching their reading experience and the book will soon be put down. So, when you write, really look at your main characters. Write in-depth character profiles before you start writing the prose. Know them like you know your best friend. If you do, you can anticipate their dialog, their physical reactions, the subtle nuances of their behavior, as you’re writing. Your words will be much more compelling.

Attached is a Character Profile template that I use to form compelling characters. It’s not perfect, but you might find it useful. It’s in MS Word 2010 dotm format. I’m sorry, but I’m not able to translate that into another format. You can download this dotm by right-clicking on the link and choosing “save link as” in your browser. To use it, double-click on it and it’ll open as a doc/docx file for you to fill in. Because it’s macro-enabled, you tab through the items and there are some with drop-down lists. I unlocked it so that you can change the fields to suit yourself, but beware that you can mess it up. I recommend changing it to fit your needs and then locking it up to prevent unintentional mistakes as you’re creating the characters. You lock and unlock it from the Review/Restrict Editing tab on your Word 2010 ribbon. I am not able to give technical support on this document, but I can tell you that it won’t harm your computer. If you don’t like it, simply don’t use it.

Good luck with your main characters. Make them your friends—even the antagonists, because they have feelings and motivations, too—and make the reader enjoy them as well. Next week, I’ll look at secondary characters.

3 Comments

  1. Bit late getting here. Busy day.
    I write character driven stories. Not even sure I could write a story centered any other way. Awesome thought provoking post – will bookmark this and check out character profile later.

  2. Excellent post, Patricia! I sometimes have trouble making my characters sympathetic to the reader. Not a good thing as you point out. The reader certainly needs to like and identify with the main characters if they are going to enjoy the book. Can’t wait for your thoughts on secondary characters.

    Are there any differences between writing “naughty” characters and “non-naughty” ones?

    • Thanks, Jenna. I gave the naughty vs. nice question some thought as I was preparing this article, and what I came up with was that there really are no differences in how you create a main character for a naughty story vs. a not-so-naughty one. In both cases, the characters need to be compelling and have believable motivations. Even in my spanking stories, in which the heroine sometimes is not too thrilled to be spanked, she has to have motivations about why she accepts the spanking(s), and the hero has to have real, internal motivation for his actions. The more realistic I can make them and their motivations, the more powerful the story.

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