A Lesson by Domenic Luciani

Characters. the life and blood of any work.


You know that when you meet someone in life who is truly memorable, even if it's only for a few minutes, you want them to have a great life and succeed in all their endeavors.

Your characters must be the same way. Who cares about some average joe who wanders around inside your book, not getting anything done and not doing anything beneficial to the plot? See, that's the kind of guy you kill off within the first hour or two of meeting him. Usually, he's the poor guy in the thriller novel who first ventures into that zombie-infested tomb. Obviously he doesn't make it out alive. PEOPLE WANT characters who get off their asses and do stuff, not his brother who sits on the couch and mopes about how tough living in a post-apocalyptic world is. Readers want the courageous husband who swims canals and busts down mob bosses to save his kidnapped wife. Not the guy who files a missing person report and waits around for the cops to take care of it. Personally, I call it the action complex. It's not a technical term, but I think it sounds cool. Anyways. Readers want their heart to race and their hands sweat all over your book. They want that suspensful moment when they're not sure if he survived the fall. They eat that stuff up like it's candy. Don't be that guy who (figuratively) plays hard to get. Chicks don't fall for that guy unless he's Brad Pitt, or rich to high heaven (in that order).  So, what have we learned so far? Action gets results, results get a satisfied reader, a satisfied reader gets you paid, etc . . .


On the other hand, there is the guy who does too much. His life is constantly in danger, people are dying every five seconds, He must have jacked at least ten cars in the first five pages, and he sits down once, only because he was captured and bound and gagged in a chair (of which he escapes in the same paragraph). People don't like this guy in real life. He has a god complex and no real enemies because he can just kill whoever the hell he wants without much effort. He has almost no reason to do the things he does, but the writer just wanted some action and way overloaded. He makes people tired just thinking about that crap, and he never has time to develope real, emotional drama, making his book a big seller with adrenaline junkies and nobody else. Don't be this guy either. Have balance.


Then there is the 'average' character. He'll pitch in and take care of the paperwork, sure, but he doesn't really care about the plot or whatever. He doesn't have any fears or anything, no stengths or weaknesses. He'll probably live, but nobody could care less if he died. He's usually the airplane pilot who gets pushed out of the way by a rowdy protagonist, or the taxi guy who, for the eighth time today, has had a scarred action hero jump into his cab and tell him to "just drive!" This guy is not your protagonist, nomatter how large his part may be. It just can't be him. And if it really, truly, is, then beef him up. Have him drift that stock cab around corners and push 110 on the highway. Get him to do SOMETHING, for the love of god.


All characters have a major flaw. They're afraid of heights, they're alergic to shellfish, if they get struck in the heal, they're basically dead. Let's take a peak at Twilight. Vampires. Werewolves. Completely immortal. No sunlight, no silver, usual weaknesses shot dead. The only reason there aren't milions of them running around and taking over the world is something stupid like moral boundaries, or blood cravings. Edward: no actual weakness, so, Meyer hooked him up with a pathetic teenage girl who can't do anything to save her own life. Absolutely illogical plotline aside, Edward has a weakness. The rest of them, however (you know that league of evil Meyer spawned to substitute for a real antagonist) have no weaknesses.  They could all honestly do whatever the hell they wanted. That's illogical, but again, that's twilight. Don't do that to yourself.

Flip side: all characters have a strength. There are no all-around people in real life, otherwise a college major would be pointless. Likewise, they don't exist in stories. Nobody likes to feel inadequate, especially when confronted with a perfect character. Even if they're great at everything (Which they really, really, shouldnt be (give them a flaw)) they need to be better at something. Take a look a Oceans . . . anything. Any of those movies because (not to mention they are goddamn awesome movies) they contain very individualized characters who each contribute something very secific to the team. That's why, when one of them gets killed off (venturing off topic here) the reader/watcher feels a pang in their chest and wonders how in the hell is the team gonna come back after that? Because when you have an all-around character, if he gets killed off, he is easily replaced.


Summing this up. People want to CARE for the CHARACTER. Have him stick around for a bit, let the reader get to know him, then BAM! hit the reader with a curveball that will leave them emotionally scarred for a few days.  They want a moment of panic when they're not sure if he'll make it through. If he's not the protagonist, or if he IS the protagonist and it's nearing the end of a non-series book, make the reader HEART BROKEN for him. The reader should be traumatized when the character's major flaw finally bites them in the a*s. In Salamander, when Nicolas Flood died, I couldn't finish the last chapter of the book for a week, because I couldn't imagine that story without him. But in the end, it made the book that much more memorable.


Know your characters, give them a weakness AND a strength, and get them off their asses, accomplish something in that 200 page spasm of a book, and turn it (and them) into something much much more.


If you have any further questions, or need more help with your characters, feel free to shoot me a message. I will always get back to you.



All lessons are typed directly in the box, so excuse spelling errors.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

I couldn't help but notice Twilight's taken something of a beating throughout this writer's course. I read the first book in the series partly to see what the hoopla was all about but mostly because my new girl friend wanted me to. I thought it was one of the biggest pieces of s**t I ever had to struggle through and had to fake interest to the end to insure the steady stream of sex that was flowing my way not be interupted. I thought that maybe because I was a guy I didn't get it but now that I have clarification from serious writers that twilight is considered by many to be the steaming bowl of cat s**t I found it to be I feel I have a right to buy a paperback copy, find my now X girlfriend who insisted I read that t**d of a book & throw it at her. Thanx...
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Posted 8 Years Ago

Holy crap, this makes me think of the Pellinor series when I wasn't sure if Cadvan died or not when he fell. I was shaking and nervous and close to having a breakdown because I couldn't stand the thought of him being dead at ALL. Amazing, and you have a good point. All my characters have flaws and strengths, most of them come all of a sudden to me when I'm writing something. Great lesson. :)

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Posted 8 Years Ago

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Added on September 25, 2010
Last Updated on September 25, 2010
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Domenic Luciani
Domenic Luciani

Buffalo, NY

That is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if..