GUEST POST: WRITING LESSON 3 BY DAVID KUMMER

Welcome to this lesson of David Kummer’s writing course. That’s me, by the way. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, success stories, or just something fun to say, email me at davidkummer7@gmail.com. I’d love to talk about anything and everything, especially if that everything has to do with books, basketball, or Chinese food. I am a teenager, after all. So that’s that! Head on down and read what might be the best writing course of your life, but also might be the worst 😉 You won’t know until you try!

Character

When your character cries, the reader should weep. When your character hurts, the reader should feel like dying. When your character succeeds, the reader should celebrate. When your character is real, the reader will love them.

 

Welcome to Lesson #3! In this, we will cover the crucial -probably most important- aspect of books.

 

You can have a great plot, great descriptions, great writing, and yet bland characters could make your book horrible. In the same way, you can fail in one or two of the main categories, and yet having wonderful characters will save your book.

 

Why are characters important? How do I make good characters? There’s so much for you to see!

What is a character and why do they matter?

 

You know the answer. Characters do stuff. They’re people or animals or even objects (I guess) and they have personalities, characteristics, and importance. Im-por-tance!

 

Just take a second and think about the last book you read. Who were the characters? Who was your favorite, and your least favorite? What made them likable/unlikable?

 

Besides that food for thought, here’s something else. What’s the most cliched story lately? Well, there’s been an awful lot of dystopian stuff (Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver, even Maze Runner). Granted, these all have different storylines, for the most part. But what makes these stories become bestsellers, movies, and almost cults? That would be the characters. The Katnisses, the Jonases, the Thomases.

 

So, they matter.

Types of characters

 

I’m about to explain a few different character types. The good guy, the bad guy, the antihero, the sidekick, the foil.

 

As well, these categories can be broken down into different types. There are different types of good guys and different levels of what you could call good-ness. In other words, some characters toe the line between different roles.

 

Most or all of these categories can be found in superhero movies. If they’re not your thing, stick with me. I’ll give more examples later.

 

<Good Guy>

This is the person who you root for. They’re not necessarily “good.” Like in the Godfather movies. But still, you root for them.

 

They can also be the actual good person, like in Harry Potter, The Giver, and literally almost every book.

 

<Bad Guy>

This is just the opposite of the Good Guy character, and they are at odds with each other. This, similarly, doesn’t have to be the actual bad person. In a gangster movie, it could be the cops.

 

Also, it doesn’t have to be an actual character or can be many characters. It could be emotions, an ideology (like racism), or something similar. Even then, it is normally embodied by one person.

 

<Antihero>

This is a person who’s the hero (Good Guy), but doesn’t act like it. He doesn’t have “good qualities.” This, basically, is the Good Guy who’s a bad guy.

 

I’ll give an example of this later on.

 

<Sidekick>

These are normally seen most clearly in superhero movies, but are in fact everywhere in stories. If you have a master character who trains a younger one, the younger one is at first a sidekick. He then becomes the main character after the elder dies off or retires.

 

Sometimes, the Sidekick just stays that way. In superhero movies, this is often the case. I’ll give examples of this later.

 

<Foil>

This is a character who is sort of like a mirror and a magnifying glass.

 

The Foil is somebody who is different than a different character. If the other guy is good, then he’s bad. If the other guy is smart, then he’s dumb. By being the opposite, he makes the other guy seem more good or more smart, just to use as an example.

 

This Foil is sometimes not a physical character. It could even be the words the author uses. It’s a complicated subject, but the main point is this: It makes the other guy seem more different, for good or for bad.

Examples of these

 

For these examples, I’ll use some popular superhero movies (just because they work the best), and also some Harry Potter, because why the heck not.

 

Superhero ones:

 

<Good Guy>

Batman: is a good-type Good Guy, and you root for him (unless you’re some type of sick, twisted clown).

 

<Bad Guy>

Joker: is a bad-type Bad Guy, who you don’t root for but also kind of like because he’s just so creepy and clowny and gives you the chuckles.

 

<Antihero>

Daredevil: is a hero, but he’s very inappropriate, made his superhero debut R-rated, and is definitely cocky -even more than Iron Man.

 

<Sidekick>

Robin: is the guy who helps Batman, and is kind of mentored by him.

 

Harley Quinn: is kind of the sidekick for Joker, proving that Bad Guys can have sidekicks just as well.

 

<Foil>

Alfred the Butler: is the guy who is Batman’s advisor and last tie to his family, yet they are complete opposites in most ways, and he enhances some of Batman’s most noble and warrior-like characteristics.

 

Harry Potter time:

 

<Good Guy>

Harry Potter: is the Good Guy, and he goes through a lot of his own problems, even dealing with the concept of whether he’s a Good or Bad Guy for a whole book.

 

<Bad Guy>

Malfoy: (Whoa! Plot twist, not Voldemort) is Harry’s enemy and nemesis at the school of Hogwarts, and is the embodiment of how the war against evil affects everyday life for the Good Guys.

 

<Antihero (tough one to find)>

Snape: is the Bad Guy who’s secretly a Good Guy, so while we’re all hating his guts he’s actually saving our lives, so calm down and give the man an Oscar already.

 

<Sidekick>

Ron: is the Sidekick for Harry Potter, even though he’s the same age; the two go on many adventures together, and in the end are more of equals in my eyes.

 

<Foil>

Crabbe/Goyle: are basically the same person, and both make Malfoy look smart by being pig-stupid themselves.

How to make good characters

 

This is probably the hardest thing to explain. There’s so many books about this already, I’ll post some links at the end of this course for you to check out. For now, I’ll leave you with some basic pointers.

 

-Make the character MEMORABLE:

Your character -no matter the genre, gender, or goal- needs to be something the reader won’t forget. This includes lots of things: names, descriptions, attitudes, words, and much more.

 

When you’re choosing a name, make it something we can pronounce and remember from the top of our heads. It doesn’t have to be normal, but please don’t just pick letters. Put some meaning and work into it. Whatever sounds right to you (and sounds right when you say it!), pick that.

 

When you’re writing descriptions of your character for the first time, make them memorable and crisp. Leave enough so the reader can imagine. I’ll cover this much more in the next lesson, Descriptions!

 

When you’re giving your character attitude or a way they speak, make them something the reader will remember and will recognize. It takes some pounding, but pound it! Make them remember how your character acts, walks, talks.

 

Of course, these are mainly for main characters (which is why they’re “main”). If you’re naming the bartender who shows up once, name him Gigidooblahseadog. I don’t care! Just don’t name your main character that.

 

-Make the character LIKEABLE:

Your main character needs to be likable… at least on some level.

 

They can be the Captain America kind of likable, where people like them because they’re awesome (and most girls say attractive). They can be the Spiderman kind of likeble, where they’re cocky but still hurting and show their emotions. Or they can be the Joker kind of likable, where they’re so insane and different it’s irresistible.

 

I said all of that to make a point: They don’t need to be perfect to be likable. They don’t even need to be good!

 

Another point: If they’re unique, that’s likable. I don’t wanna read a book full of cardboard characters. But if there’s one character who is just unique, and full of twists, and something I’ve never seen before… Well, that’s someone I’ll remember forever.

 

-Make the character RELATABLE:

As I said, your character shouldn’t be perfect. No person is perfect. Especially in the last twenty years, imperfect characters have become the best ones. If they wear their heart on their sleeve, readers will love them and relate to them.

 

Through your characters, you can encourage your readers and give them an emotional, attached experience. And if you do that, they will relate to your character, and will remember them, and will love the book!

 

-Make the character HORRID:

Ha, that’s not what you expected. Maybe. Wink wink.

 

Anyways, your characters need to be flawed. And have many, many flaws. Don’t overdo it… but that’s just about impossible. Give them flaws.

 

Spread out the flaws. Introduce a flaw early in Chapter 1, another one in the next chapter, and increase them. Increase the seriousness, and make them very, very, very horrid. This helps with everything: they’re relatable, they’re liked, they’re pitied, they’re memorable, and they’re good characters.

Conclusion

 

Characters are important. Good characters are tough to create. Good characters are necessary.

 

When your character cries, the reader should weep. When your character hurts, the reader should feel like dying. When your character succeeds, the reader should celebrate. When your character is real, the reader will love them.

 

Descriptions are a major part of this, and we’ll cover how to describe characters, settings, worlds, and much more in the very next lesson! Stay tuned.

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