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MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .

SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .

LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .

BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .

SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .

SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .

M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .

DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .

ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .

STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .

GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .

JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .

LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .

JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .

LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .

ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .

ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .

In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    1. Are your heroine/hero and villain related? Closely? Are they, in fact, siblings or, maybe, parent & child? Because if they are, you’re going to have a lot of trouble explaining your idea of parenting.
    2. Do your characters care about the dilemma you’ve given them? Passionately? Desperately? Enough to carry both them and your reader through 72,000 words on the edge of their seats? Or are they actually thinking about that ticket they booked to Bermuda back last winter before they read up on the hurricane season and wondering whether they can sell it on eBay when the time comes. . .and maybe even make a killing. . .wait—who are you, and why are you so annoying?
    3. How many of them are there? Do you even know? Proust put over 2,000 people into Remembrance of Things Past. Guess what? Nobody can name them. Nobody remembers what they’re there for. Nobody knows what was important to them and why it matters to anyone. This is why nobody’s read all seven volumes. (Except a small but elite cadre in San Francisco who hold a Proust Wake every year, most of whom actually lie about whether or not they’ve read his work, themselves.)
    4. Do you like your protagonist? A lot? A WHOLE LOT? Almost infinitely? Because you’re stuck with them almost infinitely longer than your reader is. Agatha Christie grew to hate Poirot, just as Conan Doyle got tired to death of Sherlock Holmes, but they made the huge blunder of being popular authors and got stuck with them forever. Don’t make the same mistake.
    5. Can your characters recognize the dividing line between likeably inept and sadly hopeless? between hilariously dark and simply unpleasant? between intriguingly naive and boring? Because your reader can.
    6. How many facets do your characters have and what distinguishes them from each other? ANYTHING?
    7. Which ones are just entertaining duplicates of each other? How are you going to merge them into single individuals with a lot of contrasting traits that make a weird kind of sense when they’re all put together?
    8. Which ones are dull as ditch-water? Uh-huh.
    9. Do your characters have the foggiest idea what they’re doing in your book? Or are they just sitting around waiting for you to enlighten them? Are they going to do anything about it when you do? Or are they going to pat their yawns and goggle at you politely?
    10. When they talk, do they say interesting things? Because if they don’t, don’t let them talk. I mean it.
    11. Do they have imaginative ideas about how to handle trouble and strife? Do they have the cojones to follow through on them? When trapped beneath a falling elevator, will they scream and bang helplessly on the walls, go into a fetal position, have a bad underwear day, or grab the upward cable and be yanked, yodeling like Tarzan, skyward and through a conveniently cracked door? Or will they, in a bizarre but inevitable twist, suffer a cosmic visitation that will have your reader looking askance at elevator shafts for the rest of their natural born days?
    12. What the hell do your characters NEED? Because if you don’t know this, you don’t have a story at all.
    13. Finally, is your villain really your heroine/hero? Yeah—I know. Caught you with your pants down, didn’t they? Again.



    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories




8 Responses to “13 Things You Should Have Known About Your Characters Beforehand”

  1. Great post and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m starting a new series that could go on a while. I’m taping this up over my work area and grilling each character as they come in. Thanks!

  2. I think I’ll hold my WIP up against this list. Excellent points!

  3. yodeling like Tarzan – you make even mundane topics amusing. Thanks for the laughs. Excellent point about taping their mouths shut, LOL!

  4. Jeffrey Russell said on

    I certainly don’t have 2,000 characters in my story. I do have a few characters, however, who play small, yet helpful roles in moving the story forward, but do not grow or change in any significant way. I worry about these characters. I need them for plot purposes, and they do form a static and steady background against which the struggles and conflicts of main characters are drawn, but I worry about them nevertheless. Does every character need a conflict?

  5. Kathryn said on

    I suspected as much. My characters are out to get me!

  6. Victoria said on

    Thanks, you guys! I’m so pleased to meet you new folks—SG, Jen, Janet.

    Jeffrey, I’ll put your question in the questions file for the advice column and answer it as soon as I get through the original batch.

    Kathryn, I’m afraid everyone is out to get you. In fact, your characters have been having a word with me about it.

  7. Great points! I’m loving this so far, and your sense of humor is always a joy. 🙂

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