Story Development / Character Relationships

When we initially looked at what makes a bad story the first thing that we mentioned was too many characters. Writing too many people into the story is a common mistake and it can confuse and irritate the reader.

By doing this you risk the reader losing interest and abandoning the story altogether. This is completely at odds with your aim to ‘keep the reader reading.’

So how many characters should you have in your short story?
You should have a minimum of one and a maximum of three. These include primary and secondary characters but not characters that appear briefly.

Let’s take a minute to look at the three types of characters that may already be appearing in your story.
Primary – these are your main characters and the ones around which the story will revolve.

Secondary – those who appear frequently but are not as important as your main characters.
Tertiary - those who appear once or twice for a specific, limited purpose.

An example of a tertiary character would be your main character’s mum, whom he greets on the way out of his front door in the first paragraph; or the shopkeeper who sells the spray paint to him before he meets his friends.

At this stage in your story you should already be able to attribute the above character types. You have your introduction written and your story mapped out to the point that you should be seeing your plan working out in your writing. You know where you are going with this.

But have you thought about how to reach the end? How to get your characters there without overwriting or over-explaining? Have you thought about the relationship between your characters and how that relationship can be used to move the story on?

At this point, as you work your way through, you might surprise yourself with where the story takes you. You know your characters so well that you can see them in your mind as you write.

From your profiling you even know what their personalities are like and that should be transferring onto the page. What you also need to concentrate on, however, is personalities coming together and the correct portrayal of your characters and their relationships.

When you have these things clear in your mind, when you know how they will or will not work, then you will be able to get that across.

Your characters must work together and they must be used to progress the story through a combination of incidents, dialogue and description.

You can use your characters to create comedy or drama. You can set the scene with petrified conversation or you can invoke emotion with powerful words and actions.

As previously mentioned, you want your readers to care about the characters but they won’t if they cannot connect with them.

So, think about your main characters in terms of their relationship. Are they married? Are they going out? Are they best friends? Are they enemies? Are they long-lost relatives? Or are they strangers?

Now think on your theme… What had you chosen? What’s your storyline? And how are these characters being used to encourage that storyline along and make it the irresistible read you want it to be?

Is everything building up to one explosive moment or are you revealing all in a gentle, calculated way?

And as you are writing, think on this… What reason have you given, or will you give, for your reader to care?
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