Exotic names are okay in certain genres, but not all. For example, the name Chesapeake Divine would work in a romance novel, but not as well in a children’s story.

Beware of using complicated or hard-to-pronounce character names. Have you ever read a story where you weren’t sure how to pronounce a character’s name? When I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I wasn’t sure how to pronounce Hermione, since it’s not a name used in America.

You also don’t want your reader creating their own nickname because the name you gave the character was too hard to deal with. For example, the name Zynaxix Chthul in a science fiction novel might look appropriate, but most readers would stumble over it every time they saw it.

Your characters must have depth. If you make them too flat or two dimensional, your reader won’t be able to relate or connect with them. Even the bad guys need to have depth, realism, something to which your reader can relate.

Every character in the story has his or her own deep, driving desire. This underlying desire causes them to react the way they do to any situation. You do not need to overtly state what this desire is, but the reader should be able to infer it from the character’s actions, words, frustrations, etc.

How much background is too much in the story itself?

You should know everything there is to know about your character, but you shouldn’t try to use it all in the story. Introduce necessary pieces of background information as you need them, but if the reader doesn’t need to know that Sam broke his arm falling out of his treehouse when he was eight, don’t include it. You still need to know that fact because it causes him to have a fear of heights, which leads to his preference for always living on the ground floor of apartment buildings.

Exercise 1

Create character profiles of your protagonist and antagonist using this template (MS Word document).

Exercise 2

Write a background story about your protagonist, using an event that takes place outside of the time or place of your story itself (something that happened to the character when they were young, if your story involves them as an adult, for instance). Make your readers relate to the protagonist in such a way that we would be devastated if they experienced conflict.

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