Can you tell you a character's story in twenty-five words or less?


Thanksgiving night, we were sitting around watching one of those talent-finding shows on TV.  My sister-in-law, a regular viewer of the particular show, was narrating for us.

“This girl is only thirteen years old,” she said as she pointed at the contestant. “She lives with her aunt and uncle who took her in when her parents died in a car crash. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up.”

The next performer appeared.  He had tattoos on every inch of his body.  “The judges don’t like him, but he’s really good.  He dedicated this week’s music to our troops overseas,” she said, filling in his back story.

A group of three teenage brothers took center stage.  “They got into some trouble a few years back.  A local minister did an intervention and helped them turn their lives around.”

And so it went for each new wannabe.

It was as if their stories were as important as their talent, if not more so.  We found ourselves pulling for these complete strangers before they ever sang a  note, all because sister-in-law had personalized them for us.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I had done the same sort of PR for the characters in my books.

Had I given readers that twenty-five words or less take away that described the essence of the people who populated my novels?  Were people ready to pull for them after they had read only a chapter or two, or even a paragraph or two?

I thought about the serial I am writing for VG Serials, The Lazarus Deception.  

Shot Glass Reynolds.  A reformed alcoholic cop who has to solve a mass murder and re-build his relationship with his college-age daughter. JJ Reynolds.  An idealistic young police officer whose religious background torments him when he re-connects with a lost love, who he believes is involved in the crime. Iron Hampton, a loner, self-taught Texas Ranger who has sacrificed family for his career and taken his inner rage out on crooks from coast to coast. Adelle Crawford, a Christian whore who can’t decide whether she is a Christian or a whore.

Think of books you have read and never forgotten.

“A mad sea captain devotes himself to the destruction of a white whale.”

“A widower country lawyer takes on a losing case and finds salvation in the process.”

“An old fisherman tries to land one last great catch.”  

What is the essence of those stories?  How does the author leave one over-riding impression in readers’ minds?

The best answer I can give so far in my writing journey is that for a character to be memorable, he must be real.  He must partake in the foibles and triumphs of ordinary living.  He  must have feet of clay and his head in the clouds.  His flaws must stand in danger of destroying him and his victory over the challenges he faces must come from his true humanity, a well where each inhabitant of  earth can drink.

How would you describe your favorite hero or villain in twenty-five words or less?

Try it sometime. Just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy.

(Stephen Woodfin is an attorney and author of five novels and two serials in progress.  Please click here to visit his Amazon author page.)






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