Every year, I take my old copy of What Child Is This? by Caroline B. Cooney (yes, it is by the woman who wrote the milk cartoon books…seriously, let me know if you are also a fan). I even have an appointed date for when I open the familiar blue and white cover: Christmas Eve.
I am sure you have a similar holiday book or movie. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, perhaps you always read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine at the beginning of summer. Or maybe you read your favorite book on your birthday.
You probably want the book you are writing reread frequently, but it might not be a book that has a day trigger (i.e. a Christmas book for around the holidays). Have no fear! You can still reach constant reread status, even without writing about elves.
How do you do that? I think it comes down to one simple thing: develop characters that people care about.
How do you do that?
As I have mentioned in a previous post, it is all about what they want. You have to know what their desires and throw obstacles in their path. But I don’t think you will have this down perfectly in the first draft. Sure, it helps to do writing exercises to get to know your characters, but there is a level of discovery that happens when you are actually writing the draft. No matter how much I plan, the characters always surprise me.
It is really important not to fight any changes in the character that happens in a draft. I know it can mess up your plans, but it will be even better than what you had envisioned.
Even after you are done your draft, you are not done with your characters. Go through each scene and really ask yourself how it develops your characters. Do you get a nice piece of information about them? Is there an obstacle thrown in their way? Is there a conflict? If the answer is no, cut the scene.
Also, look at your novel as a whole. Do you really have a clear picture of their goals? Do you really get a sense of who they are? The answer will likely be no. You usually need to go deeper. Ask an editor to review it, and she will let you know where you need to push your characters further.
The bottom line is this: good characters take a lot of time and work. They do not happen overnight. It will probably take months and multiple drafts to get to know them. Like for so many things in life (even for picking a movie), do not settle. Keep pushing until you get a character your readers will want to spend time with.
So much so that they revisit the character more often than the reindeer in their favorite holiday stories.
Need help figuring out ways to strengthen the characters in your draft? I can help!