It’s a safe bet your favorite books, TV shows, and movies all have characters that you love—or love to hate. The storylines might be thrilling, poignant, or funny, but a great story usually fails without characters to root for. Or to loathe.
Sister Mother of the year.
Agatha Christie created an impossibly gifted detective. You read a Hercule Poirot novel knowing that he’ll solve the case—no surprise there. But the reader is treated to his meticulous quirks as he investigates. He is far more than just a brilliant mind and a fabulous mustache. He is captivating, so we want to follow along as he charms and tricks his suspects into revealing the details he seeks.
A great villain drives a story just as well a charming hero. Cersei Lannister (pictured above) is a blending of Darth Vader, Nurse Ratched, Hans Gruber, and Al Qaeda wrapped in a golden blonde wig. She is the worst. Yet…she is fascinating. Yes, she (SPOILER ALERT) exploded an entire city. Yes, she’s manipulative, vengeful, and murderous. But she loves her children. We as readers/viewers can relate to that. Oh, she’s also (SPOILER ALERT) in love with her brother, which is…less relatable. Just…ew.
I’m working to make my characters compelling. Garrison Kemp is the lead detective on the Mousetrap Killer investigation. He’s witty and likable but has significant struggles in his personal life. His partner, Jake Dillon, is new to the city and the department and is trying to find his way. The villain, the Mousetrap Killer (MTK), is a psychopath—and I’m working to make him more than just a cold-blooded killer. I want to make him interesting. I want the reader to say, “This guy is the worst, but I can’t wait to read his next scene.”
I’ve finished editing the first third of the book. Now I’m taking some time to rewrite the MTK chapters to give him a less robotic voice—he needs depth. The rewrites will likely push back my goal of finishing the first edit in November, but the book will be better if the villain is intriguing. The reader deserves more than “this guy is bad, he kills people because…reasons.” I have some ideas on how to do that, but I won’t describe those here.
Good or bad, characters are why we tune in, turn the page, or pay $67 to see them in the movie theater. Every writer’s goal is to give the characters enough depth to make the reader care about them. That’s what I am working toward now. And I promise none of mine will engage in incest.