Make Them Move

For the last few months I have been interning at Entangled Publishing. It has been such a cool experience. If you want to get into the publishing business in any sort of way, I would recommend trying to find an internship. I feel like it’s the best way to see what it takes to be published and common mistakes authors tend to make so that you could avoid them in your own work.

As I read more and more submissions, I find that one of the most common problems is that authors don’t make the characters move. There is a lot of dialogue and internal thoughts but nothing is happening. And after reading about fifty or so pages of this, I am about ready to throw the book at the wall. I know in real life people do a lot of sitting around and talking but in a book it doesn’t work. It’s important to keep the characters moving, allow them to interact with the world around them. This doesn’t mean have them walk around the neighborhood or consistently throw bombs at them but make sure they are doing something. While dialogue and internal thoughts are an important part of the story, action gives the story life.

I’ll admit I have done this myself in previous manuscripts but I never realized how annoying it was to read until I started reading other people’s work. It’s so easy to write pages of dialogue and not realize your main character hasn’t left her couch since page two.

Here are some tips I use to keep those my characters moving:

  1. Make A List: I start by thinking about what my character’s wants and needs are and why they want/need them. Then I create a list.
  1. Create a Goal: From that list, I come up with ways to satisfy them. What are they willing to do to make sure that their wants and needs get met. After I come up with some answers these become their goals. EVERY SCENE MUST HAVE A GOAL. Be specific as you can. By creating a goal, I force my character to do something instead of just sitting at the house. After that, I create a conflict that will add a complication to her achieving her goal.

Example: to go to the store and steal food.

  1. Bring on the Motivation: There is always a reason a character acts upon a goal. This happens in real life all the time Goal: to go to college Motivation: You want to earn a degree so you can eventually make decent money or maybe just to party without your parents looking over your shoulder. I know sometimes we as people live by the seat of our pants and there is no why for an action but in a story that doesn’t happen.

Example: Motivation: She is hungry and hasn’t eaten real food in weeks.

  1. Interact with the Surroundings: We all have certain gestures we make when speaking and interacting in our surroundings so it makes sense that characters will do the same. It will get boring if they are just standing around at store or park. I tend to add body gestures, different people speaking or looking at them etc. If I ever get stuck on how my characters would act. I look back at my list. Let’s go back to the character that is going to the store to steal food because she is hungry. Maybe she is jumpy or keeps looking around to see if someone is watching her. Personally I have a problem with adding too much body movements so even though it’s important you don’t want to overdo it.

Characters are important to the story so get to know them and then move them around the page. How do you keep your characters moving in your stories? Let me know in the comments below.

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