Monday, November 21

What Are Your Characters Thankful For?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

With Thanksgiving coming up (or just passed for our friends in the North), I thought it would be fun to take a minute and think about the things our characters might be thankful for.

When we create our story people, we often focus more on the problems, the flaws, and the things that make them unhappy—because that’s where there best conflicts and plotting opportunities usually come from. But it’s also important to consider what will make our characters go through all those horrible things we throw in their paths.

These are the memories, people, or even possessions that give them the strength to persevere when everything and everyone us against them. It might be a trusted friend, or an heirloom with sentimental value. It might be a bit of wisdom from a relative or mentor. Big or small, relevant or not, there will be things in a character’s life that they’re thankful for even when everything else in their life is crap.

And we can use it to keep a character fighting long after good sense tells them to give up.

Which makes it a fantastic tool for getting them through the Dark Moment of the Soul or All is Lost moments at the end of act two. No matter how much is stripped away, they’ll always have this to fall back on.

(Here's more on the act two disaster)

Sometimes whatever they’re thankful for is connected to their character arc in some way, so that’s a good place to start looking if you’re not sure what your main characters hold dear. For example:
  • If they need to speak up for themselves, they might be thankful for a friend who pushes them to stand up and not back down from a fight they need to win.
  • If they’re struggling to find love, they might be thankful for their grandmother’s wedding photo (and the 63-year marriage behind it), reminding them that true live does exist.
  • If they need to abandon a safe, unhappy life for a riskier one that fulfills them, they might be thankful their mother read them a poem every night while growing up about chasing a dream.

Being thankful can also be seen small moments of light in an otherwise dark tale, proof that good can indeed overcome evil and that the heroes will prevail. Characters can be grateful for friends who stand by them no matter what, or for family who made sacrifices for them.

(Here's more on discovering what your characters are ashamed of)

Although tiny, moments of gratitude can have strong impacts on a scene, because they’re very human moments. Characters can show their vulnerability, even if it’s just a small squeeze of a friend’s hand.

Look through your current manuscript and find a spot (or several spots) where a thankful or vulnerable moment would strengthen the scene and add it in. The right tug on a reader’s heartstrings can turn a good book into a great book.

What are your characters thankful for?

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).


A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

6 comments:

  1. Given how Blackened Wings ended, I don't think my characters are thankful for very much at all.

    Except maybe the bad guys...

    ReplyDelete
  2. In the novel that I am doing for NaNoWriMo, my main character is grateful for her great-grand-mother, although others try to undermine her belief in the lady, who was the family matriarch - in a matrilineal society.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for a good tip (my own, not my character's gratitude)!

    ReplyDelete
  4. This character is thankful for Janice and her helpful blog!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you. This is wonderful advice. I was recently re-reading `The Series of Unfortunate Events' and some of the best moments are when the Baudelaire orphans realize that no matter how bad things get, they still have each other. It keeps them going through thirteen books.

    ReplyDelete