The mistake every writer needs to make

Published about 1 year ago • 1 min read

Hi Bookfoxers,

Lisi Harrison, a New York Times bestselling author of three YA book series, made a terrible mistake.

She was talking to her personal trainer who was getting married, and she told him that she could help.

She knew the wedding coordinator at the Montage in Laguna Beach, and could pass on the coordinator's contact info.

But when she scanned her phone, she couldn't find the coordinator.

And that's when she realized.

The wedding coordinator was actually a fictional character in her novel.

Yep, she'd just promised her fictional character would help with the wedding.

Was Harrison crazy?

Well, only in the best way.

She was crazy in the way that all authors need to be crazy. If your characters don't feel real enough that you're trying to pass out their contact info, then you're not building real characters.

See, the glorious thing about writing is that you get to create a person wholesale out of the nuts and bolts of language, and through a mysterious alchemy, they seem more real to readers than the humans they know in real life!

Here's my recommendation:

Make a list of fictional characters that feel real to you.

  • Elizabeth Bennet?
  • Holden Caulfield?
  • Oscar Wao?
  • Lisbeth Salander?

Seriously, make a list.

You should have a handful of characters that you kind of (sort of) believe are real.

One character on my list is Ignatius J. Reilly from "A Confederacy of Dunces."

When I visited New Orleans, I honestly expected him to pop up with his hotdog cart, shouting insane claims about about cheese dip and Boethius!

Once you have that list of characters, ask yourself what qualities make them feel lifelike.

Is it their attitude?

Their mannerisms?

Their dialogue?

If you can identify why a particular character comes alive on the page, then you have a better chance of ensuring your own characters come alive.

And maybe, just maybe, you'll try to pass on their contact information to some poor-hearted soul just trying to plan their wedding.


Spend some time examining your character's motivations.

If you want to test your knowledge of a character, take my character questionnaire.

Creating real fake people every day,

John Matthew Fox


John Matthew Fox helps authors write better fiction. He is the founder of Bookfox, where he creates online courses for writers, provides editing and offers publishing assistance. He is the author of "The Linchpin Writer: Crafting Your Novel's Key Moments" and “I Will Shout Your Name,” a collection of short stories.

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