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Part 3 of 5 - Have You Established Your Main Character At The Start?
by: Nick Vernon
Do you Have Too Many Characters?

Because of the limited word length we have to work with in short stories, it¡¦s best to keep the amount of characters at a minimum.

In order for characters to come alive, we have to fully develop them. And to achieve that takes up many of our precious words. Fully developing a character isn¡¦t merely stating what he looks like, but rather the kind of person he is, based on what he says, his actions, his thoughts - His overall personality.

So how many characters should you have?

Depends on how many your story needs¡K

„« You might have one main character

„« You might have one main character and secondary characters

„« You might have two main characters

„« You might have two main characters and secondary characters.

And of course it depends on how long your story is¡K

If your story is 1.000 words or shorter, it might be wise to only adopt one character.


Short stories work best with one character, if your story permits it.

In the case of having two main characters, one will be more dominant than the other. By dominant I mean that the dominant character will give the colouring of the story. From this character we will feel the emotional intensity of the story.

If you choose to have secondary characters in your story, ask yourself this question - Do you need them? I mean really need them?

Every character has to play their role in your story. Every character has to pull his/her weight. If a secondary character¡¦s role is minimal, ask yourself if this character can be eliminated and their role taken up by the main character or not at all.

I¡¦ll give you an example¡K

Let¡¦s say your story revolves around two main characters:

The secretary and The boss.

The setting is in the boss¡¦s office where the two main characters are discussing an important issue. Now, do you need the receptionist (a secondary character that¡¦s only mentioned once in the story) calling him on the intercom to inform him that he has a phone call coming in?


Because we¡¦re giving the spotlight to this secondary character and taking it away from our main characters. Why not have the phone ring and the boss or secretary answer it? Then we will still be focusing on them.


Now let me give you an example of what I mean by dominant character.

I¡¦ll take the above example to illustrate what I mean. In the case of the secretary and boss being our main characters, their roles in our story might be equal, but who will be our dominant character? Whose mind will we be in the most?

Whichever character¡¦s mind we enter the most, that character will be our dominant character.


Use your word length efficiently and eliminate any characters, which aren¡¦t really needed. Your character is the most important ingredient of your story. Choose wisely whom you place the spotlight on.

Can Your Reader Sympathize With Your Character?

Some things your character experiences will have also been experienced by some of your readers.

When the reader has experienced what the character is going through, we call it sympathizing.

When the reader sympathizes with the character, he relives the experience through your character. This evokes memories ¡V bad or good ¡V depending on the experience. You can¡¦t control whether your reader will sympathize with your character.

Not all will.

But for those who do, write the experience as convincingly and as real as possible in order for the readers to relive their own experiences.

Can Your Reader Empathize With Your Character?

If your reader isn¡¦t able to sympathize with your character, then surely he must empathize.

Empathizing with your character means that although the reader hasn¡¦t gone through the experience himself, he can understand it. And the way he¡¦s going to understand it is by how well we write about the experience.

Go into detail and write the experience through how your character is experiencing it. What he is thinking at each stage, what his mood is, his state of mind is, what he is thinking.

Empathizing isn¡¦t only understanding what your character is going through.

It¡¦s also understanding your character.

To understand the character we have to go into the core of his person and see what makes him the person he is. How his personality was shaped as he went through life.

Empathizing with your character doesn¡¦t mean that readers will necessarily agree with the character.

Your character might be a villain, a serial killer who goes on a murder spree.

Readers won¡¦t empathize with that fact that he¡¦s a murderer but they will empathize if we show the reasons behind his killing.

If we state that he was abused as a child for instance, the reader will come to empathize with the child he once was, and on some level they might understand his actions now. They still won¡¦t agree with what he is doing though.

If your readers can¡¦t sympathize with your character, they will empathize if they understand the character and the reasons behind his actions.

Are Your Characters Acting ¡¥Human?¡¦

A character doesn¡¦t necessarily have to be human. It can be an animal, creature, alien, spirit or whatever you choose for your story.

But, in order to understand your character, we have to interpret things in human terms.

An alien might act¡K I don¡¦t know, I suppose like an alien. But for us to understand him, we have to ¡¥make¡¦ him human.

So his personality will be based on what we know to be human, because we don¡¦t know how to interpret it any other way. And only his physical features will resemble what the character is supposed to be.

When your readers come to understand your character on an in-depth level, this brings readers closer to the character.

But in order to bring readers close to the character, we have to allow the reader into the character¡¦s psyche world.

This works best when we write the story from the character¡¦s point of view. With this, we are constantly in the character¡¦s mind and are always sharing in his thoughts and feelings.

So how should your character react in any situation you throw him into?

Play the psychologist.

Become the character.

Reach deeply inside him and imagine what he feels.

Then write it.

If need be, research what you¡¦re unsure of. For instance, if your character has a phobia of heights and you aren¡¦t sure how a person like that acts, thinks and feels - research into it.

As a writer you¡¦ll have to look deeply into things. This is the only way you¡¦ll be able to write about it convincingly. Your characters have to act human so we can understand them and they have to act ¡¥real¡¦ so we can believe what they are experiencing to be true.

Let me give you an example here. Your character sees a ghost. How are we going to describe the experience?

Let¡¦s start with what will be going on inside him.

1) What would he feel?

a) Curious?
b) Terrified?
c) Awestruck?
d) Surprised?

Now let¡¦s glimpse into his thoughts.

2) What would he think?

a) ¡¥This can¡¦t be real?¡¦
b) ¡¥I¡¦d like to find out more?¡¦
c) Will his logic try to find a reasonable explanation?

Last, let¡¦s write what he¡¦ll do.

3) How would he react?

a) Is he going to make a run for it?
b) He is going to stand still, petrified?
c) Is he going to try and find a way to communicate?


The three above points are believable because that¡¦s how most of us will feel, think and react. At most times we don¡¦t feel comfortable with someone we meet who appears to be somewhat ¡¥strange¡¦ let alone be comfortable with the supernatural.

So, in this instance, don¡¦t have your character converse with the ghost like they¡¦re old friends. Even the hearts of the most fearless ghost hunters race when faced with the supernatural.


If your character is human have him act human, and if he¡¦s not ¡V have him act human so we can understand him.

About the author:
Besides his passion for writing, Nick Vernon runs an online gift site where you will find gift information, articles and readers funny stories. Visit

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