Halloween & Fiction: It’s All About the Characters

 In Author

Halloween is next week! Whether you love it or hate it, most people can at least appreciate a well-crafted costume. The basis might be a popular movie character or a clever representation of a particular theme. One of the most memorable costumes I remember from many years ago was a portable Heavenly Ski Resort tram with four people in ski gear walking around inside. It was simply a familiar object presented in a unique way. With an extraordinary costume, there’s generally something about the presentation that’s out of the ordinary—an unexpected twist or a surprise addition.

Characters that attract our attention in fiction usually follow the same pattern. The twist might be a physical attribute, an obvious repetitive habit, or even a peculiarity of speech. These character quirks are essential elements that draw readers in and help them connect with the narrative. The absence of these distinctive traits can make a story seem sluggish and uninspiring. Think Harry Potter’s magic, Willy Wonka’s eccentric behavior, and Katniss Everdeen’s bow and arrow.

A popular mantra among writers is: “there’s no such thing as an ordinary girl”. Often a story begins with what might seem like an ordinary individual suddenly immersed in a challenging or even dangerous situation. This life-changing event sets the story in motion and (hopefully) compels the reader to move forward, asking questions and seeking answers. Readers soon discover that the character is anything but ordinary.

The character may be exceptionally intelligent or resilient. She may have survived a horrific accident, an abusive childhood, or a terrible tragedy. Or—and this scenario makes me cringe because it was a criticism I received from a prospective literary agent—she may be the stereotypical “young girl with magical powers”. (Admittedly overdone but still very popular!) Closely related to the distinctiveness of a memorable character is the presence of a fatal flaw. Think Frodo’s attraction to the ring or Han Solo’s tendency to look out for his own interests.

In your stories, search for what sets the characters apart. Find that characteristic that firmly implants them in a reader’s mind. And on October 31 as you create your costume or just admire the creations of others, take note of the imaginative details and unusual elements that make each costume stand out. Happy Halloween!

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