Thursday, May 8, 2014

Go-To-Gay: What Makes A Great Character?

Introduction by Tracey Meyers

Character.  We all have it.  Character is the qualities and idiosyncrasies that make each and every one of us unique and special.

Having interesting characters is one of the key components to making a book go from good to great! Whether your story is fiction or not, your characters are the ones who bring your story to life.  They connect the reader to the message that the author wishes to share.

Today, we have the honor of getting a few tips on "What makes a Great Character," from our very own Go-To-Gay, Wade Rouse.

Having attended two of Wade's writing workshops, trust me when I say, you're gonna want to take notes!

What Makes A Great Character?

I am a character.


In life, and in book.

But what does it take to make a character memorable, real, three-dimensional in memoir and fiction?
In the decade I have been writing fulltime, I have written four memoirs and just finished my first novel (women's fiction). Many of my characters have been named by critics, reviewers and literary/writing magazines as some of the best in recent history. I have also assisted numerous writers in perfecting their manuscripts, a number of which have gone onto land literary agents and be published by major publishers (I'm proud to bat a 10 percent success rate with authors, well above the one percent rate many in publishing bandy about).

Moreover, I teach a lot about characters, characterization and dialogue in writing workshops and seminars around the country.

Here are a few of my tips for creating great characters:


In memoir, you are the main character and, as such, must be relatable, memorable, empathetic, real. It sounds ridiculous to say, but you must be as real and as human as you are in everyday life: transparent, vulnerable, happy, sad. You are the character readers relate to, the one that carries the
story forward. So, who are you? What do you wish to relay about yourself and your life? Voice and POV are paramount: Both must be as unique as you are, as unique as that voice you have spinning in your head. For me, wincing humor, emotion, vulnerability and poignancy have always been my M.O. in life and, thus, it is in my writing.

Someone looks familiar in this picture!

Supporting characters

Tip: I make each and everyone memorable in some way (description, dialogue, etc.), but, most importantly, I make them relevant to the themes in my books. For example, my second memoir, Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler, is about my work "handling" a wealthy group of private school matriarchs, but the book is mostly about self-esteem. When describing characters in that book, I viewed them all through the lens of my Ozarks childhood (growing up rural and my lack of esteem), so descriptions are rooted in that viewpoint. That made the book even more personal and powerful.


My world changed writing my first novel. I felt many times as if I were an infant learning to take my first steps again.

While many things remain the same from nonfiction to fiction, many do not, especially as they relate to characters.

To write believable characters in fiction, each main character must grow, change and have his/her own story arc.

Sounds simple, right? It isn't.

I overhauled my novel four major times, and then redrafted innumerable more, with the majority of the focus on characters and dialogue.

I worked closely with New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt on my novel, and she is not only one of the most gifted writers in America today, she is also one of the most generous. Caroline imparted many secrets to me. And though I can't share them all, I will share a couple of hers and mine:


Give your characters ghosts. We are all haunted by something in life, something which drives us,
causes us to make good and bad decisions. What are those for your character(s)? What must they overcome?


For the first time ever, I created three-dimensional narrative biographies of my fictional cast, from physical features to clothing choices, and favorite food to favorites phrases. Why? In memoir, I was intimately aware of those about whom I was writing (family, friends, Gary, or people I encountered about whom I took copious journalistic notes). But what about people I'd never met? I decided to engrain them into my head and soul so deeply that I would never take a misstep with them, their decisions, etc. It helped. A lot.


A vital part of characterization. Dialogue should be as essential to the story and character as every other sentence in your book. It should move the story along, not weight it down, and never be “filler.” Too many emerging writers use dialogue as filler. "Oh, my gosh! I need dialogue now!" they think. Dialogue moves the narrative along, and it tells us something deeper about a character (the way she is feeling, what he is thinking, motivations, etc.).

My tip to writers to understand great dialogue is to read screenplays, as they are so different than what authors of fiction and memoir write. Character description is kept to a minimum, as is narrative history. Everything is revealed through dialogue. I have learned so much about great dialogue, and characterization, from reading great screenplays (Juno and Little Miss Sunshine are among my all-time favorites).

My overriding suggestion to writers?



Never give up.

The writings of bestselling humorist Wade Rouse – called “wise, witty and wicked” by USA Today and the lovechild of Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris – have been featured multiple times on NBC’s Today Show as well as on Chelsea Lately on E! and His latest memoir, It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays and 50 Boxes of Wine (reviewed here) launched in paperback February 1st from Broadway, and he is creator and editor of the humorous dog anthology, I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship: Hilarious, Heartwarming Tales about Man’s Best from America’s Favorite Humorists (NAL). The book features a Foreword by Chelsea Handler’s dog, Chunk, essays by such beloved chick lit authors as Jane Green, and 50 percent of the book’s net royalties go to the Humane Society of the United States. His first memoir, America's Boy, has been re-published by Magnus Books for paperback and Kindle. For more, visit his website, or friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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