Friday, August 24, 2012

August is Awesome Because of Ken Rahmoeller

People are awesome for more reasons than I dare try to name here, but you can always count on awesome people to be awesome in their own unique way.  Ken Rahmoeller is no exception.

Ken is writing his first book with what I believe to be the healthiest approach I've seen.  He doesn't intend to rake in millions from it.  He intends to rake in something far more valuable: knowledge and wisdom.  

Ken goes into detail about what he's doing, how and why on his blog's About Ken and His Book page.  I believe that if he's not careful, he just might discover the formula for success!

's a chemist and can do more than stupify you with his awesome wand!  Give Ken a big, awesome welcome!

Peanut butter or chocolate?
Chocolate, of course.

Paper or plastic?
Plastic. It works better when I’m emptying the litter box.

Plot or character?

Which is more important to the success of a story? Opinions vary, but many experts will tell you the character is more important. I tend to disagree. I understand their point, especially in certain genres such as romance, but for me personally, it’s always been about the plot. If I have a choice between a story with a great plot and average characters or a story with an okay plot but really great characters, I’ll pick the one with the great plot every time.

Now I’m not denying the benefits of creating good, interesting characters. The reader is going to spend a lot of time with these people (or aliens, or animals, or whatever) and it can be a boring ride if you don’t care what happens to them. I’m just of the opinion that a great plot can help you fall in love with otherwise boring characters as you watch them struggle their way through the story.

But even if you’re one of those writers who think plot is more important, you still want to create great characters to go along with that fantastic plot you spent all that time creating. So what’s the trick to creating great characters? There’s no one perfect answer. Some writers fill out questionnaires describing their MC’s likes and dislikes. Others interview their MC. Still others work out huge backstories for each and every person in the story.

None of these methods work for me. They all require an intimate knowledge of my characters at the beginning of the story and I simply don’t have that knowledge until I’ve finished writing the story. I let my characters start out as blank slates and their traits evolve over the course of the book. Perhaps this is a consequence of being a first time writer, but I’ve found this technique works well for me and I’ll continue to use it until something better comes along.

When I began writing my story, my characters were startlingly bland. I knew one of them was going to be the bad guy and one was going to be a jerk and another was going to be supportive of the main character, but that was about it. But as the story progressed, I would often realize a particular subplot could be strengthened by having one of the characters behave in a certain way, so I simply gave that character the necessary trait(s) and ran with it. Not only did my subplot become stronger, but I’d also learn something new about one of my characters. Cool.

After repeating this process ad infinitum, I soon found my story populated with characters who were far more interesting than any I could have created on my own. Best of all, I was giving them the best kind of quirks – ones which have an effect on the plot. After all, if the quirks and traits you give your characters can be removed without affecting the story, you need better quirks and traits.

Of course, this method is not without its drawbacks. Creating characters in this manner often necessitated that I go back and revise earlier chapters. And I'm not sure how I would go about writing a sequel using this technique, since the characters will have already had their traits locked in beforehand, but that's the chance I'll take for now.

So what method do you use to create your characters?

I'd like to thank Jeff for allowing me to participate in his August is Awesome series.

About Ken Rahmoeller

Ken Rahmoeller is awesome!
I'm a chemist living in Detroit, Michigan who accidentally discovered he loved to write stories while fooling around with Harry Potter fan fiction. I enjoy castles, alchemy, and making stuff blow up for the amusement of my children (and myself).

Connect with Ken at:

His Blog: A Hogwarts Sabbatical

On Twitter: @ChemistKen


  1. Hmmm, I don't generally create characters, they come to me with personalities intact. Of course I'm more character driven.

    1. I'm not ready to do that yet. I'll need more experience at creating characters first. Do you ever find your characters changing on you during the course of your story?

  2. The characters always come first for me and I do create character sheets before I begin. But certain traits do emerge as I'm writing.

    1. When I first began my story, I thought I had the characters already finished in my mind. It was only when I learned more about writing that I realized my characters were cardboard cutouts. There's so much to learn about writing!

  3. Some novels are plot-driven and some are character-driven, but very rare is one even more than 75% one or the other.

    Mine works are more plot-driven, but like you indicated, character is important It's kind of like cooking a meal. Without any spices (interesting characters adding to the story, making their impact) the place setting and presentation, and even the basic food resting on those plates will not be nearly as satisfiying. Be it salt, pepper, mustard, garlic or whatever...and I would add different characters on that plate are important too, just like a meal of scrambled eggs (one character) would do with several more--bacon, orange juice, coffee, toast...and of course the extras, plum jam, butter, salt, pepper, cream, sugar, bits of onion, etc.

    Rambling, sorry. Just a good article that got me to thinking.

    1. Good point. I just have to make sure my characters don't all end up being mac and cheese. Not that there's anything wrong with mac and cheese. They just can't all be the same food.

    2. I've been waiting for screams of anathema and heresy considering how so many people always begin with and emphasize characters above all else. :) I think Terry's point of plot-driven v/s character-driven is very valid. Fantasy, especially epic fantasy (for me at least) is a genre in which plot is often most important, although the dullest or blandest of characters can really spoil an otherwise awesome tale.

      I really enjoyed this thought-provoking article, Ken! It's a privilege to have my blog housing it.

    3. Perhaps deep down, in places nobody wants to admit exist, people secretly do care more about having good plots than good characters.

      Thanks for inviting me to guest post, Jeff.

  4. Interesting post Ken. I always enjoy reading about other writers and how they go about their creating. I wish you well.

  5. God, the more I read about writing the more I realize I write guided by the Force. O.o

  6. This is really making me think. I'm a plot first writer too, and my world was the only character for which I did a history before I started deciding which other characters I needed. But I guessed so far off that I added and recently subtracted one character from the first book to simplify the story. Not a total loss since his absence is making me add traits to my mc he didn't have before. I think he'll be more likable to teens now, so they'll feel more sympathetic in book 2 when the other character tries to take over.

    I never guessed your mc didn't have a fully developed personality from page one. Once you told me his quandary, I just thought he needed to take corrective action where readers could see how he reached his mental state instead of before the book started. I keep hoping for more pages to print and read before the power goes out during Isaac. Hint, hint...

  7. My characters create themselves. I just learn about them as I write. Makes for some interesting discussions.

    I'd say you have to have a good plot and good characters, but good characters without a plot would be a total flop, rather than a mid-list book like good plot without good characters.