This month’s Reasons Editors Pass is based mostly on weaknesses we see within characters themselves. Creating a believable cast can be challenging. Hopefully, this will help from making some common mistakes.
Black and white relationships amongst characters. A writer’s main goal is to get a reader to connect with their characters, and the relationships they have. Conflict between characters is a traditional way to invoke a reaction, though when done feebly, can result in a one-dimensional feel. The mc’s rival who is bitchy for the sake of being bitchy, the boy who is moody and standoffish simply to frustrate your mc, the overly strict father who has no reason for being strict other than to make your mc’s life miserable…
To deepen these relationships (and, in turn, the characters) layers of gray need to be added to help the conflict between them feel a little less one-dimensional. This bitchy girl…why is she so nasty? What history does she have with the mc? What is her home life like? If she’s such a pain to be around, why does she have so many other friends who adore her or a boyfriend who supports her? There’s got to be some redeeming quality about her, right?
Sometimes these redeeming qualities don’t reveal themselves until the tail-end of the story, but characters’ behavior and relationships need to feel 100% believable at the beginning of the novel or it can be difficult for readers to invest in the outcome. Readers need to fully understand why the characters despise each other, why other characters care about them, that they are human.
Lack of, or transparent, character motivation. Frequently, this piggybacks on the idea above. Without motivation, characters can seem more like the author’s puppet, acting and behaving for the purpose of the story, rather than a living, breathing being. Take, for example, a decision your character makes. Is this decision something you as the author are forcing your character to do simply to move the story forward? Or is the decision something your character would choose on his own? Readers need to believe the motivation for the character’s decision is coming from the character himself, not you—the author.
Overused character types (and stereotypes). Type-casting your characters can be a difficult task, and it seems many writers fall back on the overused and already done: the love interest is a hot quarterback (or any sports star for that matter); the antagonist a beautiful, ill-mannered cheerleader; the mc a shy introvert…
It’s what we’ve seen before, it’s what’s worked before. However, the last thing writers want is an agent/editor to be thinking as they’re reading an ms or query: This is similar to Novel X. Because we know from my previous post: similarities often lead to passes. Agents and editors are searching for fresh characters. One way to prevent this is to take some time to read previously published books in the genre you write. See what types of characters are already out there. Then do something different.
Flawless characters. It seems one out of every ten manuscripts I read suffers from this problem. And it’s not just the heroes and love interests who’re perfect in every way; we see it with antagonists too. Just as no one in life is devoid of weaknesses, nobody in life is flawlessly flawed, evil with no saving quality. Pay close attention to how your antagonist comes across to the reader. Be sure his/her strong and weak suits are evident (but not blatant—that’s a whole separate post I’ll save for another day).