Stay True to the Characters

By Dean C. Rich


Ruth, Bilbo, King Kelson, Katness, Sherlock Holmes, Conan, Princess Cimorene, Anita Blake, Robin Hood, and Eowyn.

Middle Earth, Pern, Enterprise, Narnia, Enchanted Forrest, and Panem. Locations that in their own right become characters as well.

For me the reason these names resonate so well, is because these characters were believable, flawed, and overcame major obstacles.

I asked some of my fellow writers who some of their favorite characters and why.  They told me it was hard to pick, but some of the names in my opening list came from my writing buddies.

Eli said, “I’d go with Princess Cimorene from Patricia Wrede’s “Enchanted Forest Chronicles”. I identified with her no-nonsense attitude a lot while I was growing up and, even now, I smile at the way she uses common sense to cut through all the B.S. ”

Fellow contributor Peter Burton had several.  Here is what he had to say, “Conan the Barbarian: The thing I found most interesting about Conan was the fact that his intelligence equaled his prowess with a blade. If you really pay attention to the tales, most of his victories were accomplished by his enemies underestimating his ability to think his way out of a situation.

Sherlock Holmes: Just the opposite. Most of Sherlock’s opponents considered him a weak intellectual. But more than once Doyle showed that the character possessed extraordinary physical abilities, which he put to very good use.

Anita Blake: Here is a very deep character. A more than capable woman who can stand on her own with any male protagonist. Deep emotions, yet can still hold them back and get the job done with both mental ability and physical prowess. If she can’t out think you, she can usually out fight you, and vice versa.

Eowyn: The shieldmaiden of Rohan. Fierce, loyal, independent, and as willing to stand up against the best Mordor can throw at her as any man. Although her part in LOR is relatively small she stands out as everything a warrior should be. And she did do what no man could do: Killed the Witch King of Angmar.

No need to put up a spoiler warning, but I wanted to touch on the current king of the summer movies, The Avengers.  I took my kids to see it, and I must say the characters were true all the way through the movie.  My son and I discussed the characters later and decided that it was like a family.  Sibling rivalry ratcheted up a lot of notches.

Why the movie worked so well for me was each character, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Black Widow all stayed in character and interacted so well, and not so well.  However, the characters were true, and very entertaining to watch because of that.

So, when you are working on your characters, make them flawed, make them believable, but most important, stay true to the character.  In theater we always talk about staying in character, the same is true in writing; keep your characters in character.  And a lesson I’ve learned from some of the writing folks who have critiqued some of my work, don’t be nice to your characters.

So, who are some of your favorite characters, and why?


About Dean C, Rich

I write fantasy. I've four completed manuscripts, but I've learned I've approached this the wrong way. I'm sharing what I've learned so I can help others avoid the mistakes I've made.

2 thoughts on “Stay True to the Characters

  1. Moonshade says:

    From The Lord of the Rings, I have to say Sam Gamgee, or Miss Pross from A Tale of Two Cities– I’ve got a soft spot for those characters who everyone underestimates because they’re not nobility, they’re undereducated servants who aren’t particularly interested in taking the spotlight or going home with a fortune. But God help you if you try to hurt the people they love. Rabid revolutionaries and towers of orcs couldn’t stop these two. There is something tearjerkingly heroic about marching into hell, not for money or sexual attraction or recognition, but for genuine, unconditional love.

  2. Good thought, Dean. If we subscribe to any degree to the power of myth, the hero’s jouney, as an ancient base (I hate to say “formula”) for effective storytelling, then story IS character. Without flaws, the hero has little to overcome but some imposed outside force. In a more modern mode (yikes, call the alliteration police), the “hero” must have as much to overcome within himself as without, character arc and story arc being inseparable. So fully developing our characters, even the not-so-important-but-heroic-anyway ones, down to their quirks, flaws, and fears (snakes, Indy?) is crucial to a good and believable story. Especially when we’re setting out to make the incredible real for our readers.

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