DL Fowler's Blog

Character in Characters

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those words define what we mean by character. They are words that remind us of  the difference between a leader and a con-man. For writers like me, these words are a guide to crafting characters who inspire readers through stories. Characters with character are more important today, than ever before.

A few years ago, Angela Ackerman, co-founder of Writers Helping Writers, said this in a guest blog:

What pulls readers in and makes them care is to see how the character acts despite hardship. The actions they take regardless of their circumstances is what we find compelling. Angela Ackerman (writenowcoach.com January 2013)

This reminds us we don’t not emerge from the womb as stalwart champions of justice, progress, freedom or any other vaulted principle. We all start off life as vulnerable children. We all collect baggage along the way.

Don’t get me wrong. Your story can’t begin with your main character’s birth, and it can’t start as she’s shopping for a bigger suitcase to carry her emotional baggage. Compelling stories begin when the lead character a step away from meeting the hard reality that she does not always stand as she should in times of challenge and controversy.

Readers should meet your lead character as she is, where she is just before she’s catapulted onto an arduous journey to become the person your story needs her to be. And notice my intentional use of passive voice: she’s catapulted onto. She doesn’t go without a push. Her first steps should reflect the weight of the emotional baggage that she’s accumulated, which she must shed, incrementally, over the course of her journey. Her initial actions should be ill-prepared, naïve, timid, doubtful, even compromising.

Your story is about her becoming a person who demonstrates consistent, high character in times of challenge and controversy. The theme of your story is the moral premise for which she comes to take her stand.

We write stories of this kind for two important reasons. The first is that are the stories people yearn to read. The other is that they are the stories we all need to read and emulate.

So, what do you have to say? If you’re a writer, why do you write? If you’re a reader, why do you read? What kind of characters inspire you to be a  person of strong character?

Please leave a comment below.


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