Monday, July 24, 2017


Freda Hansburg’s Five Tips for Crafting Compelling Characters

As a psychologist and suspense novelist, I’m all about delving into the dark corners of the heart.  What does it take to create characters that are complex, believable, fallible and interesting?  Consider these five strategies.
·        Give them goals.  What do your characters want badly enough to pursue in the face of all the obstacles you’re going to plant in their way?  What does your protagonist believe her goal will bring her?  It’s the quest, usually for something illusory or unattainable, that drives our characters’ stories, protagonist and antagonist alike.

·        Turn them loose.  An intriguing discovery I’ve made as a novelist – and heard from fellow writers – is how our characters surprise us.  Off they go, heading in directions we didn’t anticipate.  They seem to take on lives of their own.  The first time I experienced this (two of my characters started having an affair I hadn’t expected), I feared I’d lost control of the narrative.  Instead, it developed into a nice plot twist.  Over time, I’ve come to welcome
unforeseen character turns, which often move the story forward in exciting ways.

·        Let them fight.   Conflict is a page turner.  Whether it’s a protagonist’s inner struggle or clashes between characters, good stories thrive on the drama of contention.  Look for opportunities to play up these moments, via climactic showdowns and simmering tensions in between.  If you write a single page without a trace of conflict, be concerned.  A whole chapter without conflict?  Revise.

·        Make them suffer.  One of the downsides of caring about our characters is a tendency to want to protect them.  But they must get roughed up on their journeys.  I’m forced to battle my own squeamishness (it really hurt to have my protagonist’s best friend give him a broken nose).  But pile it on we must.  Our protagonists must endure enough adversity and anguish to turn into heroes.  Readers are inspired by characters who survive the storm.   

·        Have them learn.  Our job is to help our protagonists grow, in spite of themselves.  They may start out frightened, clueless, deluded or otherwise blind to what they’re avoiding.  But the arc of their development demands they discover something about themselves, their goals or the world that frees them from their limitations.  Whether they end up triumphant or merely sadder and wiser, their stories must feature transformation.  And then we, the writers, are transformed by telling their stories.  We turn into novelists!

About the Author

Freda Hansburg is a psychologist and Tell On You is her debut trade thriller.  She self-published the suspense novel Shrink Rapt and co-authored two self-help books, PeopleSmart – a best-seller translated into ten languages – and Working PeopleSmart.  Freda lives in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where she is working on her next novel and her Pickleball game.

Her latest book is the thriller, Tell On You.



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