Talking Characters With Month9Books Editor, Courtney Koschel

Today is Monday, and you know what that means? If you said time to talk characters with another special guest, then you get a gold star. Not real gold, but one of those shiny stickers your teacher used to give you in second grade. You’ve earned it. This is the last Monday in October and I have to admit, I’m kind of sad to see it come. Character month is drawing to a close. But don’t worry, we saved the best for last.

This past month we’ve gotten a glimpse at what writers hope to accomplish with their characters. We’ve established what can make characters stand out and keep readers interested. I thought it was just as important to see into the minds of a few literary professionals to help us unpublished writers get an idea of where we may be falling flat. Literary agents, editors, and other professionals have expertly trained eyes that can spot flat characters a mile away. Hopefully they can help us understand what doesn’t work as easily as what does work. That’s why I asked Month9Books editor, and all around fantastic person, Courtney Koschel to shine a light onto the subject of characters for us.

Getting to know Courtney Koschel. Courtney Koschel has been writing since she could hold a crayon. Her love for all things writing followed her to college where she obtained a B.A. in communications with a focus in print journalism. In the past seven years she has worked as a journalist, an editor, a technical writer, a technical editor, and a freelance editor. Her undying love for YA and MG fiction brought her to Month9Books, a publisher of speculative fiction for teens and tweens, where Courtney is a senior editor.

We’ve got questions. Courtney was brave enough to descend into the slush and give us some answers. Let’s get to it!

What, in your opinion, makes a memorable character?

I’m an empathetic person. Sometimes it sucks because I can become really emotionally invested in a character—if I care about them. Anyone who can make me laugh, cry, or cheer is a memorable character to me.

How important are physical traits, or quirks, in the creation process?

I think physical traits and quirks are important to a degree. The reader doesn’t need to know everything the writer knows about a character, but the writer needs to know the character inside and out. As far as how much to put in your manuscript, I think it’s a balance. You don’t want to give too much description because it can be distracting. But you want to give enough so the reader knows who the character is. The more a reader knows a character, the more they will care about said character. You want the reader to care. Also, make sure the descriptions are organic. Don’t have your first person character looking in a mirror describing how they look. Do you look in a mirror and think, “I brushed my chestnut colored hair out of my emerald green eyes.”? No. You don’t. Your character won’t either.

What is something writers should be mindful of when focusing on characterization?

Don’t simply have things happen to your character, instead, show your reader how your character reacts to the things that happen to them. A character should be active, but at the same time, the reader needs to be able to build the story through subtext. The action is what’s happening to the character. How the character chooses to act on the action is a reaction. Show that.

What are the most common mistakes you come across in requested materials?

The writer’s responsibility is huge. They have to set the tone of the novel and establish characterization immediately. The reader will follow a character who has a purpose. I often see a lack of character motivation.

Another big one is when the plot is too convenient. Always make sure your character is doing something that’s authentic to them, and don’t just put things in a story for the plot’s sake.

What type of characters are you drawn to?

I love strong characters. They can be the underdog, a kickass female, a band member, motorcycle rider, or the hottest cheerleader in school. As long as they are strong in their role, I’ll follow them wherever.

Do you feel “flat” characters are deal breakers?

Flat characters are definitely deal breakers. Use subtext to show the reader a character’s personality. This will have them popping off the page.

I’d like to thank Courtney for taking the time to explain some of the intricacies involved in character creation with us today. To say this post was helpful would be an understatement. It’s hard enough trying to get our characters to pop off the page and a little expert advice certainly helps. These are some great tips. You’re the best, Courtney. No, really, like a Karate Kid eighties montage, kind of best.

Want to know more about Month9Books?  Month9Books is currently open to submissions from agents and authors. They are looking for YA and MG speculative fiction. Authors without agents may pitch them on Facebook. You can read more about their guidelines here.

Thanks, once again, to Courtney, Month9Books, Tonia, Jae, Daphne, Victoria, and everyone else who made character month such an overwhelming success. I couldn’t have done it without any of you. Come back on Friday for the epic recap. I’ll even show you what I think my main character, Mitsuko, looks like. See you then!

Do you have a question about crafting characters for Courtney? Well, you’re in luck because she has agreed to spend some time answering questions throughout the day. Just post your questions in the comments and she’ll do her best to provide answers. I told you she was the best, didn’t I?

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8 comments

  1. Courtney, I’d just like to know some other common dealbreakers when it comes to aspiring novelists that you see in your line of work. For example, if there was one thing you wish people would stop doing, what would it be? Or if there was one thing you wish writers would definitely do before submitting, what would that be? And thanks for letting us ask questions!

    Brian, I’ve loved this series—and not just ’cause I was in it—but it really has made me think more about characters and purpose. I even pulled a little inspiration for Shade reading through this post. It’s been a great series, thank you for posting it!

    1. Hey Jae,

      I’m happy to answer your questions!

      Don’ts – Don’t info dump. I often see manuscripts that have tons of telling in the first few pages. The details may be important, but more often than not, they are details the reader doesn’t have to know all at one time. Sprinkle the details throughout. Tie the important information to something that’s actively happening in the story instead of just telling us.

      Dos – Get a critique partner. I think every aspiring novelist should have critique partners. Writers are often too close to their stories. A good (good being the key word) critique partner can help you flesh out ideas, catch inconsistencies, find plot holes, work on characterization, and so much more. If there are a lot of typos in the first chapter, then that’s a pretty clear indication that it hasn’t been through a critique partner.

      Thanks again, Brian for having me 🙂

      1. Thank you for showing us another side to characters. It helps to see how literary professionals look at characters. Hopefully other writers will find this post as helpful as I have. I couldn’t have asked for a better special guest.

    2. I’m happy to know you enjoyed character month. Looking at characters from different angles has really helped me, and hopefully other writers too. Isn’t it funny how many more layers there are to writing than we think? I just bought Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I’m 50 pages in and loving it. There is a creative tempest tearing through my brain that I can’t wait to unleash. Happy reading, and editing (when the time comes).

  2. This was another great character post! Thank you Courtney and Brian!

    A question for Courtney, when you were first discovering your love of YA and MG, what character stands out as the most memorable? And was it the voice of the writing that made her or him memorable, the actions the character did, or something else?

    Thank you again for such a great and informative post!

    1. Oooo, good question. There’s something special about YA and MG fiction. It’s about discovery, first time experiences, coming of age, first love, and most of all, hope. For these reasons, I can honestly say I was more attracted to the genre more than a particular character.

      Glad you found the post helpful! Thanks for the awesome question 🙂

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