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Casting Your Characters--And Avoiding Emoticons

Everybody wants something. Why do YOU want to write, for example?

Maybe you want to write a book for the story’s sake. A vociferous, misunderstood character started vying for your mental attention and enthralled you with his antics. He gets under your skin in all the right ways, and he’s an entertaining guy. You don’t want the world to miss out.

Maybe you like to challenge people. You’re on a metaphorical soapbox, and—rather than flat out preaching at the masses—allegory would be a better, wiser venue for your message. It’s time people question the status quo. Or act on their convictions. Your story will call them on that.

Or maybe you want to be rich and famous. You fancy yourself the next J.K. Rowling or Frank Peretti. (NOTE: If this is your motivation, you’re in the wrong field. There’s an easier road you should travel, somewhere.)

I know there are scads of other reasons people write. But the point is: something drives you.

Something’s got to drive your characters, too

And I don’t mean only your main characters.  Would you want to watch a play—no matter the genre—where only the protagonist and the antagonist were played by humans? Everyone else was a cardboard cutout?

(NOTE: Even though there are no other humans pictured below, I am NOT saying The Doctor interacts with a bunch of emoticons-on-sticks. Far from it. I simply couldn't resist using THESE particular cardboard cutouts when I spotted them.)

Too often, I read books in which the cast may as well be made up of emoticons on sticks. The MC wanders over near the smiling cut out when he needs encouragement and hangs out with the stereotypical thug when he feels dangerous. He can’t bum a cigarette, though, because there’s just the one. Permanently in Dude’s hand. You’d have to cut his hand off to get rid of that thing.




should want something—

even if all he wants is a glass of water.

Surround your main characters with a cast of characters who are also each desperate for something, determined to change something. To achieve something. 

To defuse the bomb. 

To hear their father say he’s proud of them. 

To find the cure. 

To get her to say Yes.

Give them motives and goals, and SHOW your readers what they’re after.

For truly multi-dimensional characters, give them motivations that might surprise the readers. Show a soft side or a deep-seated fear in the heart of the bad guy. Maybe you’ve got a selfless and thoughtful protag, but there’s one thing she absolutely cannot STAND. Show it to us.

Okay, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Flat Out Love, by Jessica Park. If you've read this book, you know what I'm about to say. (If you haven't...) There actually WAS a cardboard cut out character--an enthralling one, I might add--Flat Finn. Talk about a quirky cast, all flawed and winsome!

But what about other favorite books? Don’t you love reading a novel that makes you want a sequel—where your favorite minor character gets to play lead? Even if there's NOT a sequel? I love dreaming about what could be.

How about Veronica Roth’s Divergent Trilogy? Four anyone? Okay, so I know he's not a minor character, but he hasn't been a POV character...YET. (ALLEGIANT!) Veronica Roth has written a short story from his POV, which is an amazing way to market and build interest in your books! Christina, Eric, and Caleb also filled my mind with questions.

Ally Condie’s Matched Trilogy? I wanted more of Xander and Indie.

Ronie Kendig’s Rapid Fire Fiction. This may be one of Ronie’s greatest areas of giftedness. She’s made me crave another SERIES. And then delivered. (Well, she will in May 2014 anyway.)

Dani Pettrey’s Alaskan Courage series. Dani’s great and getting you intrigued about all of the McKenna family members—especially the star of the next one.

Susan Kaye Quinn’s Mindjack Trilogy. Raf. And Xander. And Seamus. Anyone else?

Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. Can I get an Aw, yeah for Roran? What about Angela? I'd have loved a prequel about Brom.

All of these books left me wanting more. And got me to immediately follow the authors on Twitter and Facebook. Marketing genius, writers. 

Writing genius.

Who is the most intriguing minor character YOU’VE read recently? What was it that got to you?

Thanks to Richard Anderson for the flickr photo.


  1. I do love me some minor characters. I'm writing one now that needs his own book. He's trying to take over :-). To answer your questions, I have LOVED the way Dani Pettrey's Alaskan Courage series gives a few minor characters real POV time and how a few of them get almost no time at all but are all the more intriguing because of it (Reef anyone?!). And right now, I'm anxious for Ronie's Beowulf to come out because she's made those characters so fun and feisty. :-) Great post!

  2. YES! Reef! Gage was the one I've been the most interested in, but she delivered! I'm satisfied now on that front and wondering about Reef. :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Ooh, such great advice! Some of my faves? Definitely all three main characters in The Help. Even the small players were memorable. Gosh, I loved that book.


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