The Secrets of Character
Writing a Hero Anyone Will Love
by Matt Bird
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Pub Date 19 Apr 2022 | Archive Date 02 Aug 2022
Penguin Random House, Writer's Digest Books
The hardest yet most essential element of writing great fiction is character – specifically, creating a central hero who is relatable, compelling, and worth the reader’s precious time. In this entertaining and practical guide, popular blogger, writing coach and screenwriter Matt Bird breaks down what makes characters embraceable and unforgettable, and presents insider tips and tricks for writers of all levels and genres.
Generously packed with examples from popular books and movies analyzed with engaging specificity, this expert guide reveals what makes audiences believe, care, and invest in great characters – and how to bring your own characters vividly to life.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 21 members
The Secrets of Character is a really useful book that provides a beginning writer with a lot of tools for crafting believable characters that audiences can connect with.
Bird's book draws examples from literature, cinema, and television and gives extremely concrete advice. Much of the early part of the book is focused on how to hook a reader or viewer within the first few pages or minutes of the story. Bird points out how a lot of what works to draw a reader in is somewhat counterintuitive, or the opposite of what beginning writers want to do when first starting out. In one notable example from the first few chapters Bird rightly points out that writers overestimate how much audiences value being surprised by a character's actions. In another he points out that written dialogue should not *feel* written, giving an example from a tv show in which a character says "I have one question" and then proceeds to ask three questions. Writers would be inclined to revise "one question" to "three questions" but most people do not actually speak that way, and to a reader "I have three questions" in that situation would feel stilted.
Throughout the book there are examples like these. Advice like "give them weird logic" or "give them unique syntax" is interspersed with concrete examples and if you think of your favorite characters, the ones that feel most real to you, it is absolutely true that these tools are applied. While writers who are drawn to character driven stories and for whom characterization is a strong point will likely do many of the things that Bird advises naturally, writers who find characterization tough, or who are often getting notes from critique partners about "voice" or being told that their characters sound the same, or that they lack believability, will find some good advice here. I would recommend this book for any writer who struggles with characterization in general, and even seasoned writers who do not struggle with character might find it interesting to see the way Bird breaks down the hows and whys of what makes characters work for audiences.
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