Anyway, like all recipes, you're going to have a list of ingredients, and some of those will be more important than the other. Garnish? Well, that comes at the end and is a nice touch but isn't really necessary: these are your cosmetics like interesting chapter headings. Then things like spices and herbs are your technical and creative flourishes. Again, not strictly necessary but if the taste of your targeted audience call for it then it can mean the difference between lukewarm appreciation and rave praise.
And so on. So many things are interchangeable and flexible, but if there are two big main things that every single recipe needs, it's equipment to cook with and someone to do the cooking. These are, respectively, your plot and characters, the things that make your story come together, drive it forward and make it happen in the first place. They are your - wait for it - meat and potatoes of fiction writing. Thank me later.
So today we'll look at characters. In fact this is the beginning of a mini-series of character posts. So before we get into the nitty gritty of building well-rounded, flawed and believable characters to fill our fictional landscape with, we need to get into a mindset, the most important rule with regards to characters moving around your plot:
Do not be afraid to hurt your characters.
It may seem silly, but as a writer you will have to build these characters from scratch. You will flesh them out to incredible lengths and depths, know things about them that the reader will never know (and need to know), let them dance in your head in the day and haunt your dreams when you sleep. They will be your constant companions for the duration of your novel's gestation, whether you will be writing about them or not.
And you, as a decent human being, will grow attached to them. It's natural: we get to know something, and as it becomes a part of our life, we feel a certain affinity with whatever that is. Think back to the last big spring clean up you did: remember that one thing you completely forgot existed, has played no part in your life for years and will never do so again, but you just can't bring yourself to toss it out? Exactly. Now imagine just how protective you will be of these new friends that you - you! - created on your own!
I've seen it happen: when writing, this protection over one's characters translates into shielding them from all kinds of mishap and conflict that may otherwise befall them. Their protagonist is happy and content, all is well...and your reader slams your book in the midst of a yawn.
Conflict is so, so key to your story that the two may as well be synonymous. Think back again to when we talked about the stasis and trigger: this is what we're talking about, when something wrong (or right but with consequences) for your character that pushes them out of the comfort zone and confront that adverse force now pressing on them.
If your character is facing no conflict, then why would your reader care what is happening? Conflict, adversity and stress upon your characters is what keeps your reader turning the page. Make no mistake; your reader is no masochist! No, this stems from the fact that, if you've done it right, your reader will sympathize or empathize enough with your character that, when it all crumbles around them, the reader will want to see things through with your poor character: they want to see your character backed into a corner so they can see how they get out of it. If your protagonist has nothing to worry about, then the reader has no reason to stick around with them.
So don't be afraid to hurt your characters. Putting the screws on your own creations can be as painful for you as it is for them at first. But you have to put that emotional distance between yourself and your characters: your precious story depends upon their strife. So not only do you have to avoid shielding them, you have to actively push them towards conflict, hurl them through their gauntlet of trials and tribulations until they emerge the other end, battered, bruised, and all the better for it.