How to Select Characters for a Novel


Characters give the writer opportunities to add significant anticipation, movement and genuineness to the work. A character is the representation of a person in a narrative or dramatic work of art. (Wikipedia) Everyone has read a novel that has a lasting effect on them. It is often the selection and development of the characters that makes the novel real for the reader.

Many authors use ‘good’ and ‘evil’ characters in their novels. The conflict that good and evil generates interest and their journey through the novel will lead to a conclusion. Other authors present their characters as people with opposing ideas or goals but generally their type becomes evident at the appropriate time. I have found that novels that are unclear about the type of characters are not as interesting as the ones with clearly defined character types. However, the twists and turns in a characters nature often adds another level of interest.

How much do you need to tell about the characters? Much has been written about developing characters. Generally, I write in a way that develops the important characters more than the minor characters. Too many characters might make the novel confusing. A tip that I heard several years ago suggested that instead of having several ‘evil’ characters, develop a particularly ‘heinous’ type that is bad. My novel called “The Remnants of ONE’ has such a character.

I have contemplated the idea of writing an 80,000 word novel with only two characters but have not managed to get very far. If I ever created such a novel and it became a movie, it would have an inexpensive cast! The development of the characters and their whims make novels interesting. Let your mind go. Everyone has a ‘really good’ and a ‘really bad’ character in their mind’s eye.

The vast majority of novels allow ‘good’ to overcome ‘evil.’ It is probably a good thing that we like to be comforted by that thought. However, an interesting plot can be created by the characters changing their bias between ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Try it but don’t make it too confusing for the reader.

Many English novels have a reasonable smattering of male and female characters. Including age difference and their particular foibles makes for interesting reading. In my first female spy novel, ‘The Making of Kirsten,’ I had great difficulty in describing some of her traits. I sought help in describing the young woman from my children. Their ideas created great discussions in the family.

There are no ‘final rules’ about characters but make them interesting so that the reader wants more. In another article I list typical character types. be creative with your character and they will most likely be interesting to the reader.


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