Creativity Sessions: Finding a Character’s Heart

Last Friday, I touched on the changes that were beginning to manifest in the third draft of The Warden of Everfeld: Memento.

As one of two leading protagonists in the novel, I knew that Jaed’s characterization was paramount to both a well-balanced story, and an enjoyable read. Achieving that has been easier said than done.

Before delving into how Jaed is evolving as a character between my second and third drafts, I’d like to provide a little more context as to why I’m focusing so heavily on refining her as a character.

When this story was first swimming around in my head, it was just a collection of ideas and images. The core idea? The relationship between Aston and Jaed.

But in my head, the story of this relationship was only being told by one side: Aston’s. It’s not that I thought Jaed was unimportant. Her role was just not defined very well at first. As I began to build a plot around these two, I realized that I needed Jaed’s perspective to balance Aston’s

I know, I know, kind of a no shit moment. Who wants to read about a relationship from only one perspective?

But, it took some sage advice from my alpha readers and narrative necessity to prove to me that Jaed was not only the counterpart to Aston’s story, but a central figure in her own right.

Helping a Character Stand on Her Own

So here are a few lessons I’ve taken from building Jaed up as a character.

If a character comes off as impulsive to the reader, then their actions at least need to be justified. An impulsive character whose decisions are illogical is just dumb.

A character can’t know everything, but they have to know something. Bare with me.

In my early writings behind Jaed’s eyes, I didn’t focus enough on what was driving the decisions she was making. They seemed random, but too convenient — just cheap plot devices. And that’s probably true; I initially made Jaed make her decisions because that was where the story needed to go.

So I had to give Jaed something to inform her decisions. That came in the form of knowledge of her past; Jaed knows enough of her past to steer her. Her grandmother tried to explain it to her, but Jaed is missing just enough information to keep her guessing. She’s curious and persistent, and that’s what drives her.

Jaed is also protective of her adopted sister, Arden. Aside from her questions about her own past, Jaed is concerned that Arden’s past is catching up to them. She is compelled by instinct to protect Arden.

But if the danger isn’t real, then Jaed comes off as paranoid. So I had to ratchet up the stakes of the story, giving Jaed something to fear right off the bat. Now, she has a legitimate reason to be so protective of Arden.

Character Feedback is Golden

Much of the above is advice that was given to me by my alpha readers, and reinforced by my editor. Even though I have the entire novel written and (mostly) complete, I think it’s vital that I do not lose sight of Jaed’s purpose as a character.

In each of her scenes, I need to consider whether her behavior and her decisions fit with her character. It’s a simple concept, but I think it’s easy to let your characters get lost in powerful emotions. Take a step back, however, and you may find that you are forcing a character, and by extension, the reader, to feel a certain way.

Instead, understand how your character should feel, and let them guide the scene. Then you will know the true heart of the character.

Steve D

One thought on “Creativity Sessions: Finding a Character’s Heart

  1. hehe I find there’s loads of “no shit” moments in writing 😉 Sometimes it can be hard to spot the obvious (and it’s easy to get wedded to your eyes) so well done for identifying an issue and changing it for the better! And I definitely think it’s better to let the character lead the reaction.

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