Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Three ways to give your characters True Grit




So I've been thinking a lot about characters lately, and studying ways to strengthen them. I dove back in to Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, and was reminded of his summary of three characteristics that make great characters, the first one being grit.

He says the first unbreakable rule for major characters in fiction is No Wimps! Characters can start out as wimps, but early on they must develop grit and do something. Grit must be shown in action.

If our story is dragging, Bell suggests looking at the heart of our main character. Is she acting like a wimp? Is she "taking it" without doing anything about it? Courage bonds us with lead characters, so here are some ways Bell suggests we put some fight into the people we've created:
  1. "Think up a scene early in your novel where your characters must show inner courage." One example is she could come to someone else's defense by confronting a bully at school. Stiffening her spine early on will foreshadow a greater display of courage later in the book.
  2. "Or the above character can back down, setting up the necessity for growth." Maybe she sees a victim being bullied and wants to come to the rescue but backs down out of fear. Or perhaps she's pushed toward bullying herself, in order to fit in. She knows it's wrong but does it anyway.
  3. "Play up your character's inner battle at the time of challenge." When our main characters struggle with inner fears it adds depth to our work. As Bell says, "No one except James Bond goes into battle without fear."
If you need help getting to know your characters better, Jody Hedlund's character worksheet is a great place to start.

Do your main characters have grit? Or do they start out wimpy and grow from there? I'd love to hear about them.

35 comments:

  1. I love characters that have that grit. Wimpy characters are BORING! :) However, writing characters that have grit -- that's another thing. Something to work toward for sure.

    Thanks for posting the link from Jody Hedlund. :)

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  2. Yes, my main character has grit. She developed it over a very short period.

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  3. Hi Julie, mine are always very normal, scared and not wanting to face up to the dragon etc etc, and it's fun working out how they will change and fulfill their story purpose.

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  4. Julie - I just finished reading Maeve Binchy's "Minding Frankie" and therein are two protagonists will real grit. One of them, Noel, starts out as a wimp-extraordinaire; but evolves into a real hero.

    Excellent post - Marsha

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  5. This has to be one of my favorite posts like ever! I remember reading somewhere (probably pretty obvious) that courage is being afraid, but standing up anyway. LOVE IT.

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  6. Usually mine start off wimpy. I guess the trick is making them wimpy, but still likeable. :)

    Amy

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  7. I think that I would certainly like to read about characters that have grit. However, I don't think it is always necessary for a novel to be successful. I'm thinking of Twighlight and I'm hard pressed to find any examples where the main character does anything but 'take it' for the entire novel - its actually a little frustrating.

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  8. The one I'm thinking of at the moment doesn't start out exactly wimpy, but she does have room to grow. But I'm glad to say that in reading your points for putting fight into them, I've got her doing one right off the bat! :-)

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  9. The third technique has been most helpful in His Good Opinion. Darcy struggles against his growing affection for Elizabeth and then later against 28 years of upbringing. He wants to marry her, but everything he's been taught says that would be a degradation to his name.

    Then, after she refuses him at Hunsford, he struggles against his own mortification and pride. With her rebuke echoing in his mind ("Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner...") he's forced to compare the person he thought he was with the persona he shows to the world. Then he faces a decision: Does he remain as he is, or does he take that step and change?

    Thanks for the post, Julie. It was good for me to think about Darcy in these terms. I'll keep this in mind for future stories too.

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  10. Mine starts wimpy with her siblings but strong by herself when confronted with an adventure. I love the film True Grit. Never seen original though.

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  11. My mc starts out with grit, loses it, then finds it again. This is such a great reminder because it's easy, in trying to create a flawed character, to cross the line from flawed into weak. Flawed characters are acceptable, even endearing. Weak characters...not so much.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  12. I have to admit that a true wimp of a character loses my attention really quickly. On the other hand, I love a wimp that rises from adversity to take on their world.

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  13. I love characters who have grit, moxie, spunk! Those kinds of characters are my favorite in literature.

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  14. These are wonderful tips! I agree with bonding to a character who has courage.

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  15. Great post and great advice... thx!

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  16. Thank you for the mention today, Julie! :-) And thank you so much too, for the picture! LOVE it!

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  17. Thanks everyone for your thoughts on spunky characters!

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  18. Heck, my character started out with so much grit, he was a cocky you-know-what!

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  19. My MC in this story starts off thinking her grit has been knocked out of her - but she finds out she still has it :)

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  20. Oooh...I really like this. I do think characters need to develop a sense of self and some backbone by the end of the novel. Great post!

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  21. My current MC is a wimp, beaten down by life. She's about to get tough though.

    I have an MC in another story who is tough around everyone except for one particular person, then he turns to jelly (or should I say jell-o!)

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  22. My latest character had grit, lost it, and has to gain it back by the end of the book. She isn't a total wimp while she's looking for her grit, but she struggles to get back even a fraction of her former "go get 'em" self.

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  23. Yes! I think it's important for the main character to go through emotional turmoil early on in a way that the reader will connect with them! Awesome, Julie.

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  24. Julie, this is such a great post! Characters with grit really are so much more fun to read about. And write about, whether they start out with spunk or gain it as the story develops.

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  25. I like to know a protagonist has grit right away. Then when bad things happen she can be human enough to be negatively affected by them, but I trust that she'll pull through and triumph, because I've already seen that she has the seeds of that character strength that she can grow. Bell is brilliant, isn't he?

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  26. Great post. Thanks for sharing the link to Jody's blog. Thought I was already following her blog, but guess not. I now am.

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  27. Hello! My first visit, will visit you again. Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed your posts. Congratulations for your work. If you wish to follow back that would be great I'm at http://nelsonsouzza.blogspot.com
    Thanks for sharing!

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  28. I've never done character worksheets or anything like that. I really wouldn't mind giving it a shot!

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  29. Very cool tips, AND I just watched True Grit last weekend and loved it! I think my character has grit, but I've got my eye on her now~ :D

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  30. Bell rocks. A lot of my characters start out pretty wimpy, but as I write them, their true self comes shining through. And then I have to go rewrite the first third of the book to reflect that.

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  31. Great reminder! I love characters that show some oomph! I don't know if I could be this organized, but these are awesome suggestions:)

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  32. The MC of the WIP I finished is a strong girl. The MC of the book I am writing is a wimp who grows upto be a strong guy. I loved Bell's book.

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  33. I'm working my way through this book and I love it. I found the chapter on character to be so helpful! I agree that your characters must not be wimps...or at least cannot stay wimps for long. :)

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