Archive for June 22nd, 2009

Jun 22 2009

How to Interest Publishers In Your Characters: Avoid Irrelevant Details

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

When you’re making a pitch to publishers (or explaining your story to prospective readers), I’d strongly recommend focusing on crucial details like major personality traits, unusual decisions, major goals/motivations, and anything else which has a major effect on the plot. In contrast, these demographic details tend to be irrelevant and forgettable: 

  • Hair color
  • Eye color
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Age, unless perhaps it creates an important contrast with other characters or is critical to understanding the plot. For example, if I were doing a synopsis of Scott Pilgrim, I’d probably mention that the main character is a 23 year old trying to get over a crushing breakup by dating a high school student.
  • What the character wears, unless it does an exceptional job of developing the character and/or establishing interesting personality traits. Note: Being rich or poor is neither a personality trait nor inherently interesting.
  • Nationalities. Okay, this could be useful, particularly to point out an unexpected setting, but generally I wouldn’t recommend mentioning this unless it’s hard to understand the plot without knowing who’s Canadian and who’s Russian.  (Rule of thumb: If you’re listing nationalities mainly so that we know how diverse your cast is, it probably doesn’t matter).
  • Birthplace–unless, say, we need to know that a character is from another town, country or planet.
  • Educational background–unless it is relevant to the plot and/or suggests an important trait or skill.  (For non-students, the character’s job usually covers this better, however).
  • Blood type, horoscopes, or birthday (Japanese publishers may care; Western ones definitely do not).


However, some demographic information could be relevant because it affects the book’s audience appeal and how the book will be marketed.

  • Race–if the protagonist’s race is critical to understanding the plot and/or audience appeal.
  • Gender–usually relevant (on at least the grounds of audience appeal) but usually it’s unnecessary to explicitly tell us who’s a lady and who’s a guy. You can cover that with gendered pronouns (e.g. he vs. she).
  • Anything else that is particularly important to the plot.  Some examples may include jobs, species (for nonhuman characters), major illnesses, mental disorders, etc.
  • Anything that affects major character decisions or goals.  For example, if the character’s main goal is to get over some past trauma, it would probably be worthwhile to briefly discuss the trauma.


Obviously, these are just guidelines.  If the character’s height or weight or eye color are particularly important to the plot and/or provide a major obstacle, then mention them. However, in most cases, they are not.



Many beginning authors start out by doing lists of their characters’ demographic traits.  If that information is for your eyes only, I don’t think it’s an issue.  However, when you’re presenting your book to professionals, I would recommend a smoother approach that spends less time on extraneous details and more time on why your characters matter to the plot.   A particular detail might be relevant for some characters but not all characters.  For example, if one of your characters is an alien or elf, it’d probably be worthwhile to mention that (assuming it’s plot-relevant), but you probably don’t need to explicitly tell us which characters are humans because we can infer/assume that on our own.



Good luck!

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