The Writing Formula: Characters


I began writing novels when I was eleven years old. I wrote several books since then, up until I was about sixteen. But I wasn’t completely satisfied with the books I wrote. My dad realized that writing was a HUGE passion of mine, so, being the awesome dad he is, he bought some books and software programs on writing. At first, I was like, “Pshh, I don’t need that stuff. I’ve been writing for years. Look how many books I’ve written!” My dad read the books, studied the software programs and educated himself in writing. After he finished studying, he came to me. Do you know what he told me?

“Kaitlyn, there is a formula to writing. You have to use this formula if you want to write the next best seller.”

I was excited, to say the least. A formula?! You mean, like a fill-in-blank kind of thing?

No. It’s not like that at all. Although the formula makes it easier to build a compelling story, you still have to build the story yourself. No one’s going to do that part for you.

Okay. Let’s talk about creating compelling characters. There are several different archetypes, and all are necessary for a work of fiction. Here is a list of every character you need in your story:

Protagonist: This is the hero of the story. His or her goal should be strived for from the very beginning. He/she is usually the main character too, though he doesn’t always have to be.

Antagonist: This is the main bad guy. He doesn’t necessarily have to be evil, he just has to have an opposite goal of the protagonist and try to prevent the protagonist from succeeding.

Sidekick: This is the hero’s sidekick, the guy/girl that encourages and believes in the protagonist’s goal the whole way. He/she is never skeptical or demeaning.

Contagonist: This is a bad guy, but he’s not the main bad guy. He has selfish reasons to stop the protagonist, and he usually dies.

Guardian: This is the protagonist’s mentor and/or guardian. He/she either is given the responsibility or feels obligated to protect the hero. Usually he and the contagonist end up going head-to-head. Sometimes, though not all the time, the guardian ends up dying protecting the hero.

Logic: This is the brains of the group. He doesn’t necessarily have to be a nerd or have gone to college or be educated at all. He just simply needs common sense and the guts to speak up against a stupid idea.

Emotion: This is the emotional character. This character has conflicts with the logic character. This doesn’t mean they aren’t on the same side. It just means they don’t get along as well, or have a hard time getting along. For example, a logical character may sometimes get frustrated with an emotional character because he doesn’t understand why she would think doing *insert action here* would make a difference in the situation.

Skeptic: This is the character that is on the protagonist’s side, but he doubts they will succeed.

The hero (protagonist) is usually the main character, but really, the main character can be the guardian, emotional, logical, sidekick, etc. The only thing you need is a main/impact character conflict.

For instance, let’s say you’ve chosen the emotional character to be your main character. Now you need one of the other seven to be the impact character.

The impact character is the character that challenges the main character’s beliefs, making them question themselves.

Here’s an example:

You’ve chosen Lacy to be your main character. Lacy struggles with self-worth and has an eating disorder because she thinks she’s fat. The impact character you’ve chosen is Rebekah. Rebekah has a healthy view of herself and life. She knows that being a size 12 is actually healthy and normal. She’s content with her weight and looks, and she doesn’t feel pressured to coat herself in make-up and throw up in the toilet after every meal. Rebekah finds out about Lacy’s problem and approaches her.

“Lacy,” Rebekah addresses the frighteningly thin brunette. After a long talk, Lacy’s open to what Rebekah has to say about her issues. “Magazines make billions a year telling you that you aren’t beautiful the way you are, that the only way to be loved is to be perfect like the photo shopped model on the cover. Why don’t you try to not read anything on weight loss and being pretty for a while, okay?”

Lacy spends several days thinking about what Rebekah said, and she ultimately stops reading the magazines that infected her view of herself. After a few weeks of eating lunch with Rebekah and Rebekah always having something to say about how she’s beautiful being herself, Lacy finds it easier to stop stressing over her weight. She stops throwing up her food and actually realizes she looks prettier now.

The impact character is Rebekah and Lacy is the main character.

Sometimes, though, the impact character will be challenging you differently. Take Ryan and Sid for example:
You’ve chosen Ryan as your main character and Sid as your impact character. Ryan is a great kid. He’s a straight-A student and loves volunteering at homeless shelters. Sid is your typical “bad boy”. He’s disrespectful and a player. He smokes when no one’s looking, though everyone knows he does because they can smell it on him and he brags about it. He recently was accepted into a local gang. Ryan has done a good job of staying away from Sid. Then, one day as Ryan was on his daily run, he decided to take a shortcut through an alley. Little did he know that Sid was there doing drugs. Sid recognized him from school and encouraged Ryan to join him. Ryan declined but Sid was persistent. Ryan ran and Sid chased him three blocks before giving up. The next day at school, Sid sat behind him, once again, offering for him to join him after school with his gang for a while.

In the example above, the impact character wasn’t bent on helping Ryan, whereas Rebekah was caring and there for Lacy when she needed encouraging.

When building a story, you have to have those eight necessary characters and two of them have to be your main and impact characters. Deciding this before starting an outline is essential.

About 

Kaitlyn Deann is a 18-year-old Texan. As a writer she wants to keep a reader turning pages late into the night and give them something to think about long after they finish the last page. She loves her friends, family and God. Laughing is her favorite calorie burner. To know more, visit www.kaitlyndeann.com.


November 19, 2012

Comments

  1. john e says:
    Posted January 11, 2013 11:45 am

    Kaitlyn. Very interesting. First of all, kudos to your Dad. It's harder than you'd think to be a useful parent to teens so congrats to both of you.

    Secondly, great article. I'd like to understand more about how protanganists and impacts interact in an interesting way. Obviously, if it's just one person convincing the other, it's a little dull and simple. Could you write about how to make it more creating the struggle and different possibilities that makes a story interesting and stimulating?

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