Two Quick Character Tips to Improve Your Writing

I love quick and easy writing tips that I can apply right now and improve my writing just like that. Those little things that are easy to overlook but can give your writing a boost whether it’s making you more efficient in the editing stage, or simply developing a stronger story that has layers and hidden goodies for the reader.

Today I’ve got two quick and easy character tips that tie together for a big ol’ plot boosting kaboom to help you out.

What is Your Main Character’s Fatal Flaw?

This is something I’ve overlooked for a long time. It’s that little thing that is easy to neglect and, as a result, can find myself with a character who is sort of wishy-washy in terms of their motivations and actions. Or worse, they flip around like gangbusters with their journey’s goals, etc., and aren’t anyone new and improved by the end of the book. In other words, they didn’t grow or change or overcome tricky bits in their personality in order to get what they want.

What is a Fatal Flaw?

Basically, a fatal flaw is that something within your character that they have to overcome because it stands in their way of getting what they truly want. As their character arc and growth builds throughout the story they should overcome this flaw or at least get better at dealing with it.

How this improves your writing: By knowing your character and what they have to overcome, it not only creates a stronger character but it helps you write faster because you know what you have to accomplish. By having that as a writing goal (having the character overcome the flaw) it is easier to dream up situations that will enhance the character’s growth process. As well, by focusing on who they are and what they have to overcome internally you ensure (hopefully) that you cover their internal motivations and make a character that feels real to the reader. The character has to change in order to get what they want.

Simplified: The journey changes the character and makes it so they can obtain their goals–whereas they weren’t in a position to do so at the onset of your story.

Real life example: My upcoming book, Whiskey and Gumdrops, has a heroine–Mandy–who has issues with accepting no-strings-attached help without feeling as though she owes the person back. In other words, her dire need for independence gets in the way of her asking for the help she needs in order to follow her dreams. Her fatal flaw: independence to the point of being unable to accept the help she needs.

What Stands in Your Character’s Way?

What does your character want and what stands in their way?

If your character wants one big thing in their life and there is nothing standing in their way, well, then it isn’t really a story, is it? They simply go out and get it. Think of an action movie. There is always something in the way of them obtaining their goal, isn’t there? And that’s what makes the movie so great. What’s going to happen now? What’s going to stop him? What’s he going to do in order to get past it? (Think Indiana Jones.)

How this helps improve your writing: By knowing what your character wants to accomplish and by having things stand in their way you naturally create conflict which creates a faster feeling read (can’t put it down! OMG what’s going to happen next?). As well, it helps direct you forward while you ask yourself a series of ‘now what happens’ type questions which in the end leads to less stalling out (writer’s block) as well as sags in your storyline. One thing leads to the next.

While you might be thinking… but I write literary fiction that is character driven and not plot driven…?! Thanks a bunch, Jean. Right. This can still apply. In character driven stories the character is on a self-changing journey even more than the average novel and by knowing who they need to be by the end of the story you can still put them in situations that make them face who they are–that is something standing in their way because it forces some sort of change within them in every scene. And I would almost argue that in a character driven story that every scene should link up to some sort of change within the character. Why? Because that will help drive the story forward. Even if the character is only shifting their point of view on something by ten degrees, it is still a change for them and the reader gets to see that change happen. Which is, quite frankly, kind of exciting!

Real life example: My character, Mandy, wants to be a big fish in the small town of Blueberry Springs. That’s her big goal. That’s what she wants. But guess what? She’s going to have to accept help (money, skills, and more) in order to accomplish her dream. This ties into her fatal flaw (accepting help and not being 100% independent) and you can see how her flaw and end goal are going to be at odds with each other and force her to change and grow in order to get what she wants. Built in conflict and change. Kaboom!

There you have it. Want to pick apart your own work in progress and see what fatal flaw your main character has and whether it ties into what they want in your story? Feel free to share and discuss in the comment section. We can puzzle it out together. :)

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4 comments on “Two Quick Character Tips to Improve Your Writing
  1. All great points that I am going to incorporate in my current work. Thanks.

  2. Jemi Fraser says:

    I’m not very good at putting these things into words. Let’s see. Sharly’s fatal flaw is probably jumping in without thinking – reacting without a well thought out plan. What she wants is revenge and what stands in her way is her lack of an actual plan and a rather sexy cop :) At least that’s what I can figure out right now! :)

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