Characters Make the Novel

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by B. J. Robinson

Want to write a heart-touching novel? Let your characters drive the story. Develop well-rounded ones so readers will be able to identify and connect. Begin with your main character. In my novels Last Resort, Southern Superstitions, and Whispering Cypress, I started each one with a main character.

In my August 11 release, Whispering Cypress, I created characters with conflict beginning with the main character who loves Whispering Cypress Campground. Problem is, her former beau also loves the same place, but she beat him to buying it. I develop these characters and their story along with secondary characters, and they tell the story. I let them go and give them free rein. That’s character driven versus plot-driven fiction. I love books about people, not things, so I enjoy writing multi-layered, character driven novels that go deep and make readers think. If you want your reader to remember the story and your characters once they close the book, these are the type of novels they’ll long remember after turning that last page. For example, I read Lynn Austin’s All She Ever Wanted summers ago, but it’s a novel I’ll never forget because it’s not some plot-structured book. It’s a character-driven novel about people, not things.

To make the characters endearing to readers, I sometimes use a symbol. In Whispering Cypress, a red-and-black-checkered scarf becomes central to the story and even my secondary character, Morris Dillon, becomes well developed instead of flat. In Last Resort, Faith has a favorite coffee cup that belonged to her mother and loves her golden cocker spaniel, a character in the novel. In Southern Superstitions, June gifts her mother with a white cat and when her husband, Andy, goes missing, certain objects bring back sweet memories. These things are not what the story is about, but they’re used to connect readers so they can identify. The story is always about the characters, the people.

Character-driven novels make readers care about what happens to the characters. The characters are not forced to remain static, but are allowed to branch out and develop as the story progresses. I’ve had many reader compliments and readers who’ve asked me to write another novel about the same characters because they want to know more about what happens to them in the future. For example, I’ve had several requests to write a sequel to Southern Superstitions. I love family sagas, series, and generational stories for the same reason readers want more about the same characters. These readers care about the characters, not a certain plot. They want to know what happens to them like people whom they’ve met in real life. That’s realistic fiction, and I’ve had readers comment that my books sound real. If you check the reviews for Southern Superstitions, you’ll find many comments about the characters.

B. J. Robinson is a multi-published, prize-winning author of Christian romantic suspense, Last Resort and Southern Superstitions. Whispering Cypress releases August 11. She writes from Florida, blessed with her husband, children, grandchildren, pets, and faith. When she’s not writing, she’s reading and reviewing books on her blog.

Comments 0

  1. I read that book by Lynn Austin and loved it too! But I love a lot of books by the author. My favorite was Until We Reach Home.

    I’m character driven as well. But I try to connect the two together: the characters and the plot.

    I believe that if the story doesn’t feel static, moves forward, and contains well developed characters, I’m satisfied.

    A lot of people now these days push for plots than the characters. The twenty five words, one liners, to summerize our stories train us to stretch things to the limits thinking of the plot. The summary of the story for agents is plot driven more than the character driven, though you need to have balance of both.

  2. I like character driven stories, too, but a well-developed character in a so-so plot is just as big a turn off to me as a great plot with a so-so character.

    To my way of thinking, the real challenge is developing both plot and character to the very peak of perfection with every story. No writer gets it right all the time, but writing is a lot like making soup. Each batch, each novel is a little bit different.

  3. Anna, thanks for visiting and for the tip about Lynn Austin’s Until We Reach Home. I’ll have to check it out. I just read Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson and loved it. I want to work more on that area. I know how to do the one liners and blurbs, but I don’t like being tied to an outline. I agree with your points. Blessings, BJ

  4. Carrie, you have to have a good plot or you have no story. You have to have conflict. I just don’t like being tied to an outline. I like to be able to let the characters drive the story. I always have a basic plot in my head and some notes before I start a new novel. I have a one liner and a blurb, and a synopsis and go by that. Last Resort and Southern Superstitions are both being praised and getting great reviews on Amazon and Southern Superstitions is getting lots on Goodreads as well. I agree there needs to be a balance. Blessings, BJ

  5. I still have to say that though a book may have an awesome plot, to me, it’s still the characters that make the book. If I don’t connect and identify with them, get to like them and care about them, I’m not going to enjoy the novel. Blessings, BJ

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