Every story needs characters; whether your characters are people, animals or inanimate objects (think Disney’s Cars), it takes believable characters to drive a story. A story may be plot-driven, but without 3 dimensional characters, the plot will fail. Who wants to listen to the woes of a flat, unbelievable heroine? Who’s going to turn the page to find out what happens to a character they can’t believe in, one who they don’t care about? The key to a good story is to get your readers to really care about what happens to your main characters, to believe on some level that they really exist and what happens to them matters. It is what will keep your readers coming back for more. How many people finished reading the first Harry Potter and needed to know what happened to Harry and his friends next? It wasn’t a want; they actually felt they needed to know. So how do you create flesh and blood out of paper and pen? For me, the first step is to have a story in mind that I want to tell and then populating it with characters. In order to create a believable character I have to get to know him or her. Some authors have conversations with their characters, playing both parts in their imaginations. Some authors have a formal interview with their characters. There is a quick and easy interview to start with at http://hubpages.com/hub/The-Character-Interview-as-a-Writing-Tool. Not everything that your character tells you will actually make it into the story; a lot of it will be back-story or motivation. One important thing to note here is that this system requires us to free write, to just let go and let the character’s personality take over, to not second guess or edit or even think consciously about what would sound better. The character needs to take over in order for us to know why they do what they do; why they act a certain way. We need to get into their heads, so they will get into ours. Finding out a character’s background will help us know what he or she likes and dislikes. It’s important to figure out how they grew up, what their challenges in life are, what drives them, what their goals and ambitions are. Again, a lot of this won’t actually end up being written into the story, but to make them believable we need to know how they would behave. Readers tend to be turned off to a character who behaves in a way that the reader sees as “uncharacteristic” of them. We wouldn’t have someone who loves dogs kick a dog out of his way; that would be uncharacteristic of him and the reader would lose faith in that character. I find that if I loosely base my characters on people I know or composites of characteristics of people I know, they tend to be more believable. I find things that I dislike about people and things that I like about people I know and combine them into a certain character. This is one of the reasons I call the stories I write “faction” not “fiction”; my stories are based on factual events that I have fictionalized and populated with my own characters, who are fictionalized versions of people I know, or composites of several people combined into one character. That’s what works for me. What works for you?
Flesh and Blood from Pen and Paper
Posted on January 21, 2011