A Post for New Writers: Characters are the Heart of the Story

A Post For New Writers

A Post For New Writers

At the heart of every story is the main character (or main characters).  Without the characters, the story falls apart because the story is all about the character’s journey (or characters’ journeys).  The journey can be emotional, physical, or spiritual.  Whatever the case, the most important thing a writer does is bring forth characters who seem so real, the  reader forgets they are reading a book and slips into the world with the characters, specifically the main one.  You want your main character’s journey to become your reader’s journey.

But how do you write an emotionally engaging character?

An emotionally engaging character is one the reader empathizes with.  Whatever your character feels, you want the reader to feel.  But in order to get there, you (as the writer) must first feel it.  You have to be emotionally linked to the character.  If you aren’t, the character will come across as two-dimensional.  Ideally, you’ll experience everything all of your characters do, whether they are the good guys or bad guys.  But the main character(s) must be connected directly to you.

1.  Be in tune with the wide range of emotions we all experience as humans.

Writers are sensitive by nature because they have to be.  They feel everything deeply, and they aren’t afraid of emotions.  If you need to cry, you cry.  If you need to laugh, you laugh. When you are aware of how different experiences make you feel in your day to day life, you can start thinking of how these emotions will play into whatever situation you put your characters in.

2.  Let the character lead the journey.

Do not tell the character what to do.  Let the character lead.  If you want the story to go one way, but the character wants to go in another direction, let the story unfold as the character wants.

This is a hard concept to explain to people who don’t write, but the idea is to free your mind while writing so the story naturally develops as you’re going.  Don’t force the story.  You might be leading things when you start a scene, especially if you’re having a rough writing day, but there should be a point where the flow starts to come in and you are writing what you’re seeing and hearing in your mind.  That’s the moment where you are fully engaged in the character and letting him/her lead.

3.  Be aware of your body’s cues.

Once the character is leading, be open to what is happening to your body.  Often, your body will give you cues that can help you write down what the character is experiencing.

For example, while you’re writing a scene where the character is rejected, you might notice you’re tearing up.  Okay, this is a great time to write down that your character also has tears filling his/her eyes.  At this point, the character has three options: let the tears flow, fight to hold them in, or fight them but fail and cry anyway.  Depending on the character’s personality, you will pick the one that best fits them.

Another example: the character is talking to another character.  This other character says something that makes you laugh.  At this point, you should write down that your main character laughs.

Having an emotionally engaging character requires the writer to be open to going through the journey with character while letting the character take the lead.  I think the more in tune you are with your emotions on a daily basis, the easier this will be.

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to other genres, but her first love is historical romance. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and a couple of children. To find out more about her books, go to https://ruthannnordinsbooks.wordpress.com/.
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4 Responses to A Post for New Writers: Characters are the Heart of the Story

  1. I enjoy your writing essays very much. You’re so good at introducing your characters- giving them physical form, showing in written examples, their personalities, and unfolding the story line according to how they’d react in certain situations. I can see how the characters would “lead” you to what the story line is! If the writer omits a physical description. it is like hearing an old radio show- the reader (or hearer) must fill that in for you, in his/her mind’s eye, and you may not like what the result might be! If the personality isn’t fleshed out, we never connect with the character, and the story isn’t as satisfying. I suppose, with your essays, we’re learning more about You, the writer. You could certainly be a teacher also!

    • I held off on writing any articles on the writing craft because I wasn’t sure how to explain how I write. I start typing and things seem to just flow from there. But when I started writing these topics, I realized I had fun doing them.

      My favorite part of writing a book is the very beginning because that’s when I start learning who the characters are. I think the reason I don’t do well with outlines is because until I’m writing how they are responding to other characters and the situation they’re in, I can’t get a good handle on who they are. I often hear actors are told that acting is “reacting”, and I think with writing, it’s the same way. The way a character thinks and feels about a situation tells a lot in who they are.

      For me, the fun of writing is not knowing what is going to happen until I’m writing the scene. So many times I think a scene will go a certain way, and the character says or does something that changes everything. Sometimes, it ends up changing the course of the entire book. Probably the most notable change was Eye of the Beholder when Neil (who was supposed to be the hero) decided he didn’t want to be with Mary. Because of that, I got the idea of His Redeeming Bride and Isaac’s Decision. Neither of those two books would have be written if Neil had done what I expected him to do. 🙂

  2. Thanks for this post because, this is SO important! If you’re feeling emotional when you’re writing, you’re probably doing something right. 🙂

    • The story writes itself when I’m connected to the characters. That might be part of my problem with Wagon Trail Bride. I haven’t been able to get an emotional connection to them. They feel like they’re outside of me, and that makes it hard to know what to do with them. I usually don’t bother writing stories for characters like this, but so many people want to read the book, so I’ve been struggling with how to connect with them.

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