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Fantasy and science fiction writers often devote countless hours to developing their world. They figure out their system of magic, their system of justice, their system of society, and all other sorts of “systems” that otherwise help their world or reality make sense.
The hard truth?
That’s not enough.
You can spend all the time you want adding colorful detail to your story. You can make James Cameron’s Avatar look like a black-and-white film with the amount of colorful detail you add. You can get us down to the cellular level…and it still won’t matter unless your characters bring the world to life.
That’s right. The characters. In all your decisions about the world’s ecosystem and magical infrastructures, did you forget about them?
They’re the ones who bring everything to life. Because nothing matters unless it’s in motion. It’s all a stage and props, but it’s the story spun into action through your heroes, villains, and everything in between.
Have you considered your character building? What are your characters’ histories? Their quirks? Their darkest moments and brightest triumphs? What are their biggest strengths and flaws?
Those are the things an editor is going to look for when considering your manuscript. They’re going to check if your characters actually engage the reader, if they have any unique elements that set them apart from all the other wannabe’s in your genre.
And if not? Well. That’s a pity.
Because they should. Your characters should stand out from the crowd. That’s their job! Sure, you may have the best plot twist in the last 100 years. You may have a more awesome spin on magic than Tolkien. But unless your characters are able to make the reader care, it won’t matter.
Yeah, I know. Readers are kinda demanding, aren’t they?
Here are some critical questions:
What part of your story is substituting for your characters?
Are your characters just filling in the blanks in the scenery?
What will make a reader remember your characters long after they’ve finished the story?
Think of your characters, in a way, as tour guides. They’re taking the readers, shaking their hands, and saying “Welcome. This is what we want you to take a gander at.”
Where do you really want your character to take readers? Better yet, use this technique on yourself to get greater insight into the people who populate your world. Write out an imaginary tour through the town where the story takes place. Have a character or two be your guides. Write down their dialogue as they point out landmarks and other characters. What do they draw your attention to? What places matter to them? Where did they go on a first date/get in a first fight? Where do they warn you to stay away from?
While it may never be info that gets into the story itself, it’ll give you a stronger perspective on who they are, what they value, what they fear, and how they interact with others. And once you have a colorful, engaging character to draw the readers into the world you built, it will make that world all the more believable and memorable.
Thoughts, questions, and comments?
Josh Vogt has a passion for reading and writing speculative fiction. He’s seen all sides of the publishing industry and is currently working with a literary agent to get his novels published. He brings to the team his love for books, plus a desire to help aspiring authors in their quest for publication success.