Good characters are at the heart of every good story.
Libby Hawker’s guide to planning your novel, Take Off Your Pants, talks about The Story Core (I really recommend this book, by the way). It doesn’t matter what genre the book is, the Story Core is always there – and it centres around the characters.
The Story Core has the following elements:
- A character
- The character wants something
- But something prevents him/her from getting what he/she wants easily
- So he/she struggles against that force
- And either succeeds or fails
I bought Libby Hawker’s book around a year ago, and must admit it is has helped me ENORMOUSLY when planning my books. I used to find planning a bit of a chore – too many details that took the fun out of my story. However, Libby’s approach is to focus on the ‘Character Arc’ of each protagonist and build your plot around it.
Planning this way is great fun! I’ve got a short attention-span when it comes to overly technical books on book planning – but this one really ‘clicked’ with me.
How does a Character Arc work?
Your characters need to change during the story. As Libby Hawker puts it: “They struggle to grow, to learn how to be a better person, is a theme that is constantly repeated in mythology across the world.” She insists that even the simplest, quietest plot works if your characters are compelling. And the way to make your characters unforgettable, is not to give them super-human traits, but to make them flawed.
Make your protagonists flawed in a huge, potentially life-ruining way!
That way, the Character Arc, is all about your character growing into a better person, and all the adventures and drama they go through help get them there.
Meet my Fantasy Romance protagonists
Still haven’t come up for a title of this book – although, I’m sure ideas will emerge as my planning deepens! In the meantime, I have some names (although these could change) for my two main protagonists: Lilia and Perrin.
The image on the right is more or less how I imagine her. Red haired with hazel eyes and pale, freckled skin. She projects an air of diffidence.
Main character: Lilia, a young woman living on the island of Orin (details about this location still to be developed). Works as a cook in the tavern in Orin’s port. Her parents are farmers in a local village, and they want her to carry on the tradition. However, Lilia is stifled by their fixed routines and narrow horizons. She wants more from life, she’s just not sure what…
Flaw: She has a fear of death – caused by the death of her older brother when she was a child. He was taken by a Shadow Ghoul.
External goal: She must protect a dangerous magical talisman, so it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
End: Lilia ‘comes of age’. She learns that the best way to confront a fear of death is not to run from it. She faces it ‘head-on’ in an epic adventure that changes her forever. She also learns to love, as she no longer fears losing those she cares about most to death.
Boyish, with shaggy light brown hair and blue eyes. Charming with a cheeky sense of humour.
Main character: Perrin’s parents run the tavern in Orin’s port. He’s supposed to work in the tavern to help them, but he would rather gamble, drink and flirt with the wives of married men. He’s the youngest ‘golden’ son, and his parents have always indulged him. His life is going nowhere but he doesn’t appear to notice, or care. He lives for the moment. Lilia works in the kitchens at his parents’ tavern. They are friends, having known each other since childhood, but Lilia is too fearful, needy and neurotic for his tastes romantically. This changes during the course of the book, as both Perrin and Lilia go through dramatic character arcs.
Flaw: Selfish, only interested in the pursuit of pleasure, personal freedom and money.
External goal: He must help Lilia protect a dangerous magical talisman, so it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
End: He ‘comes of age’. Goes from ‘cynic’ to ‘participant’ in life. Learns that although he thought he was having fun before, he was really unhappy with a great emptiness inside. He discovers meaning in life by the end of the book, and the joy of true love.