How to Write REAL Characters and Stories

Narratives and the characters that drive them are icebergs. What I mean is this: the things that happen on the surface are driven by what is far beneath the mirky, cold waters. Most people will say that we are icebergs with a small upper surface, then everything else beneath us. But I think it behooves the writer to see that we can break that down a bit further to make our narratives richer.

icebergSurface

This is what we ‘see’ in the narrative and the characters’ actions. It is what is done, what the text is giving us, and what we have at face-value. As events unfold, however, the waters start to recede, and the next layer – the Meat – is brought to light, becoming a surface issue.

Meat

The meat is what the characters know, but the reader doesn’t quite yet. This is where much of your backstory is hiding. These can be goals that characters have, events that are driving them in the story we know as the reader, or it could be a number of other things that the characters are aware of. The meat is the juicy tidbits that keep people reading. It is the mystery that is coming to light. It is the excitement that compels readers to continue reading, as a story unfurls and they begin to understand their characters more and more.

Core

Here is what hides in the darkness of your story’s murky waters. This part of the iceberg may never come to light. It is what drives your narrative, the themes of which compel readers. Many of your readers will discover this core over time, appreciating it after much contemplation. Your characters are the same way. Their cores are the personality, spiritual, foundational parts that have made them who they are. These things may change, and, if they do, it is a seismic shift. This is not where your characters find their victorious growth. If their core changes, you have found a way to overcome the basic hero’s journey and bring your character to a place where they have confronted the darkest part of themselves. This is their hidden pain, unbeknownst to even the character at the beginning.

If your character decides to make a change in their core, they have truly grown beyond their pain. I would advise against doing this too soon in your writing. If you are going to make a series out of your stories, having the character address the core early creates a character that loses its compelling nature with the reader. You end up with flat, 1-dimensional heroes afterward, and readers just don’t relate to this person as the main protagonist. Addressing your characters’ cores turns them into a mentor character, a person who can be gone to for advice. They become the idyllic hero, an almost messianic-type character. So don’t go there until you are ready for your story to end, OR you are moving on to a new protagonist.

Some parting thoughts:

  • The meat is the most compelling part of your story. People keep reading to get more meat. They enjoy the surface. It grabs their attention, but it doesn’t last. You have to pull a reader with intrigue, and that intrigue is beneath the surface in the meat.
  • The core should be saved for your third act (of your whole story).
  • The three parts of the iceberg apply to both stories AND characters.
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