First Characters

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Your protagonist(s) should be well established by the end of chapter one. This does not mean, however, that you have to tell us everything about them. But we should have a sense of who they are and what their motivations are by the end of the chapter.

When we talk about character, we must talk about motivation. What is it that moves your character forward? There must be some desire that he or she has in order to make them progress. If not, then there is no reason for us to read. Motivation can be something as simple as a glass of water, or something much more profound, as in a sense of destiny that compels him or her to make rash decisions. Whatever the case, a character without motivation is no character at all.

So what motivates our characters? Their histories. Each character is a real person and will have years of history that you will never get an opportunity to explain. Your first chapter, then, must suggest this history in as much detail as possible, but as quickly and efficiently as possible as well. You must suggest the past without telling us the entire timeline.

Keep in mind the following when designing characters:

  • They are physical (what is their biology like, and how does it affect their lives. Are they healthy? Sick? Injured? Fat? Skinny? Etc.)
  • They are sensory (they interpret the world in context of their five senses)
  • They have history
  • They have quirks (often developed as a result of something in their past)
  • They have families (don’t neglect nurture when you describe their nature)

It’s a quick list, but it serves well to check off to see if you’ve at least nodded to a few of these so we can get a sense of who this character is completely.

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