Character Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths and weaknesses, every character has to have them. When I first began writing, I told myself that no character would be flawless, and every character would have something redeemable about them.

Flaws in characters create realism, conflict, and encourage change and growth. A main character with inner turmoil to overcome is much more interesting than one who is practically perfect in every way. The last thing I wanted to end up with was an entourage of Mary Sues.

Characters need strengths too, including antagonists. It not only makes a villain type character more realistic, but also much more interesting. Sure, it’s easy to hate a guy who eats puppies for breakfast and wants to blow up the world because he’s EVIL, but he’s just a typical villain who will probably be forgotten shortly after the book is put down. A one dimensional villain is as bad as a one dimensional protagonist.

Whereas somebody who believes they are doing good but are inadvertently opposing the protagonist, is much more interesting. There’s more for the reader to question, and there’s a build up in tension as the reader does not know how the two will react when they come face to face.

I wanted to insure every one of my characters had an element of grey to them. With that mindset, I began planning. Turns out, writing flawed characters is easy for me. A bit too easy in fact. Because when I sat down and took a look at them all, I found out I had accidentally forgotten to give half of them any strengths. I had basically written a bunch of very unlikable people. Oops. A few good hours of planning later, and the problem has been solved, mostly. I still have one character who I’m unsure about, but he hasn’t appeared in my draft yet, so I’m hoping that his actions and interactions with others will develop him past what I have on paper. It worked with several others, so fingers crossed it works with him.

 

~~Ari

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Word Counts

I think I have an obsession with counting how many words I’ve written.

While I realise that how many words I put down on paper doesn’t matter that much so long as I tell the story well without bloating it with unnecessary scenes, I can’t help but frequently check how long my chapters are. That little word counter in the corner of a Word document is the equivalent of a clock during an exam for me. Which means I basically stare at it instead of actually writing. I turn off my internet, music and keep my phone well away from me, and yet I still get distracted.

If I could write as fast as I find ways to procrastinate, I would be done my first draft by now. Probably my second too.

But I must say, it is rather interesting researching word counts in famous books, especially since I’m not entirely sure how long mine should be. I read somewhere that publishers prefer books to be between 80000 and 100000 words, so I’ve been using those figures as a very rough guide, and have come to the conclusion that I would like my book to be around 1000000 words. It’s helpful to see physical copies of books and know how many words are in them. In this regard, the Harry Potter books have been a great help.

And then there’s the issue of my chapter word counts, because they are terribly inconsistent!

On average, one chapter is around 4000 words, yet I’ve had ones that were only 3000 and ones that were well over 7000. Basically, I jump around a fair bit. However, I’m trying to stick with shorter chapters, and any long ones are broken up into sections.

Shorter chapters, for me at least, tend to be more appealing, as I like to read an entire chapter in one go and books with long chapters make is terribly difficult to do so at times. At least breaking up longer chapters offers places where a reader can take a break without being in the middle of something important.

So while keeping a tab on my word count is important, I probably ought to stop doing it every couple hundred words.

~~ Ari

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Chapter Titles: Yay or Nay?

Given how much time I’ve spent trying to come up with titles for my books, one would have thought the topic of Chapter Titles would have come up earlier. Oddly enough, I completely forgot about them.

Until today that is.

Because a fair few books avoid having chapter titles, I think my brain somehow pushed them out of existence. Yet now I have to sit down and consider whether I want to include them or not.

Chapter titles do offer a good way to give the reader an idea of what the chapter may be about, a little bit of foreshadowing in a way.

They can also make it easier to remember particular chapters, as names can be much more memorable than numbers. I quite often flick back through books I’ve read to find particular scenes I like, and often it’s a lengthy affair as I can’t remember the exact chapter they’re in, just a rough location. Chapter titles make it easier, as they remind me what exactly the chapter was about and help me recall if the required passage is in there or not.

I’ve quite often seen that instead of chapter titles, books with multiple POVs label each chapter after the character who’s POV it is. Which is great, since you don’t have those confusing couple moments of trying to figure out who’s narrating.

I suppose it’s a lot about presentation too. A confusing chapter title may put off a reader, or draw them in. The same can be said for simple chapter titles. Mere numbers may be boring, yet using Roman numerals may look intimidating.

However, while I say all this, I find that I quite often don’t even notice them, especially if I’m engrossed in a book where I just want to get straight to reading the next chapter. Which makes me wonder just how important they really are.

So, today I found myself staring at my first draft and trying to determine whether or not I ought to include chapter titles, especially since I tend to write metaphorical titles rather than literal ones. Which could get confusing. In the end I relented and put them in, after all, it’s easy enough to get rid of them later on if need be.

Plus, coming up with titles is a lot of fun!

 

~~Ari

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