Characters in Fiction–The Letter C takes the Cake! Part 1

These blogs that lightly touch on the Wonderful Art of Fiction don’t presume to cover everything or examine all aspects in the depth they deserve. The Writers’ Table is highlighting the passionate, distinguishing attributes that separate fiction from so-called nonfiction. Knowing even some of these differences gives authors incentive/promotional tools for marketing our art. As we work our way through the acronym F-I-C-T-I-O-N, the letter C  has much to offer.

C is for Characters. Without characters, a story would be events, dates, and outcomes. In other words, the same as nonfiction and not very interesting. Characters bring a story to life and permit the Reader to engage with other real people. Many Writers prefer a character-driven storyline. How would a particular person act and react in a given set of circumstances?

Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti, a police commmissioner in modernVenice is a wonderful example of a character-driven mystery series. He is married, an Everyman who is standing up against a corrupt system to the best of his ability.

Many Readers also prefer character-driven novels because they immediately relate to that person’s needs, motivations, feelings, and fear regardless of genre—and they keep on turning the pages. Mystery, Suspense, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Romance, Fantasy, and even Sci-Fi will involve a Reader more quickly if he identifies with one or more of the characters. It is the Writer’s obligation to create realistic, believable, and interesting people to fill his pages. The Reader knows the difference and will set a book aside if he can’t believe the characters. (Yes, even in Fantasy!)

Many authors (this one included) believe that a character-driven storyline is one way to define “plot.” Place interesting, well-developed people in a particular setting and allow them to encounter circumstances that require some sort of action. What happens next? What is important? Why does it matter? Why should the reader care?

C is for Conflict. Using the above example, plot is simply what folllows when Characters meet Conflict. Without conflict of somekind, there can be no story, no feelings, no character growth, no tension, and no valid outcome that matters to the Reader. Not even contemporary adult fairy tales will end with “Happily Ever After.” The modern adult reader expects more. For a satisfying, believable outcome, within a given era and setting, the story must follow what actually appears possible for the inner Point-of-View character. That’s the Writer’s task to make what happens possible.

C is for Connections. A novel can’t connect unless it’s emotionally true, and when it’s emotionally true and actually connects with the reader, that’s when the magic happens. Only Fiction grants the Writer this ability to connect with the reader, and vice-versa. This cannot be said of nonfiction.

Let’s return to the basic essence of fiction, that “F-word” of Feelings.  Have you ever picked up a novel, tried to read it, set it aside, and tried again—yet you never could “get into the story.” The Writer failed to connect with you, the Reader.  Granted, not all stories, even the world’s absolute best, will appeal to everyone, but through the art of well-crafted writing, the story should reach out, easily establishing a connection with readers.

C is for Content. We’re not talking about textbook information, but the Writer must offer the Reader something he didn’t know before or a familiar topic presented within a new context. Always provide content of value. It may be distinguishing information about a certain locale, food preferences, attitudes, challenges of daily life, time period, weather, or how current events, no matter when, touch the lives of others. It’s what called “incidental learning,”—a side order of learning!

If a story doesn’t contain substance, the Reader will allow words to pass before his eyes—black marks on white paper—and the author’s writing has not entered his thinking. Books have the power to change lives: they can start revolutions, instill moral values, question the status quo, awaken awareness, and stir social conscience. Make the most of the content you share.

Curiously, most of what we know about the world around us we have learned from fiction—not from nonfiction. Interesting, isn’t it?  More on this in a later blog.

C is also for Choice. Combined with the need for content is the Writer’s wide range of choices. The author always a choice, not only what to write about but how to treat his subject. There’s always something new—your Reader has a choice too.

For the Reader: What have you learned as the result of your reading? Have you commented, at least once, “Hmm… I didn’t know that!” Which characters entered your life and your thoughts? Have you finished reading a book and wanted to know even more about that character or time period?

For the Writer: What characters have you developed that your reader will identify with and will never forget? Have you made them real, with real emotions and real needs, multi-dimensional, no matter your genre? Are their actions sufficiently motivated?  Have you offered valuable content to your Reader? We’re not talking deep theoretical research. Will your Reader feel that your book has added something to his life?

Thanks for stopping by The Writers’ Table. Come back next week and “C” what remains to distinguish fiction, how you can enhance your writing and reading pleasure. Your comments, input, and questions are always welcome.