Don’t BREED Characters!

(photo credit: André Mouraux — see * and ** below)

Don’t breed characters? Really?

But (you may be thinking) my story NEEDS characters!

It does. Does it need 100 of them, though, all named,
most with tiny roles in only one scene, all who must be
tracked through your eventual edits with the fine-toothed
comb of “did I change eyecolorhaircolornamespellingHELP?!”

No. Your story, like the Marines, needs just a few good
men. And women.

It needs a handful of characters who will matter to
the reader, who will earn either the reader’s love
or hatred, who will enrich the story by taking it
from start to finish, by inviting your readers to
watch changes and challenges and to cheer or boo them.

When you’re writing and a new character parades onto
your page all full of promise, telling you, “Baby,
I’m the spice you need to make this story sing,”
DON’T believe him. Or her. You’re talking to an
out-of-work actor looking for a job who will tell
you ANYTHING. “Sure, I can dance, I can cook, I can
rappel down the side of a building using only a line
of dental floss and a safety pin—you NEED me.”

Hey, maybe you do. But before you hire this actor,
stick him or her into your story, and then discover
what you have is just one more body to keep track
of, ask yourself these questions:

1) Do you have another character, an existing main
character, who would look awesome rappelling down
the side of a building on a string of dental floss?

2) Could an existing minor character make good
use of the cooking skill?

3) Would your current villain be a richer, deeper
character if she could dance like Ginger Rogers
AND Fred Astaire?

Characters will pop into your head ALL the time,
telling you what they can do for your story. Look
at their suggestions…and then add the skills to
existing characters to make them richer, fuller,
more fascinating people, and let the actors
themselves wait for a job in your next book.

Write with joy,


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Holly Lisle

Novelist, writing-nerd, dissector of thought processes, writing course creator and site owner here, Holly Lisle has a cat that plays fetch and a whole lotta stuff on for both readers and writers.