Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bringing Characters to Life

I love character based fiction. In my opinion, every story should center around compelling characters. The characters are what make a story great. For example, we admire Edward Cullen for his goodness, we despise Voldemort for his evilness, laugh with C3PO because of his quirky nature.

We have to feel like we have a relationship with the characters in the book if we’re going to care about their story. For example, you may hear that some kid in Ohio has cancer and think Oh, that’s sad. But that may be the end of it. But what if that kid was your neice… or your daughter? Then you’d know how she loves to play Littlest Pet Shop, how sweet she is with her baby brother, and how scared she is of death. She’d mean something to you, and it would wrench your heart out to lose her.

Do any of us feel this way with our characters? In my WIP, I have created a love triangle. This was very painful for me to do, because I knew, in the end, my MC would have to choose one of them—which meant losing the other. I loved both of the characters so much that it hurt me to let either of them go. My hope is that my readers will feel just as attached.

My question to you is, how do you build your characters? How do you decide which character would fit a story best? Does it just come to you in the night? Or do you meticulously plan it all out? Or maybe a little of both?

How do you “get to know” your characters well enough that they start speaking to you? How do you make them real?


  1. Personally, I'm still working on that. I watch alot of other stories and how they introduce the characters. They don't tell you about the characters, they show you. They use action, background, and dialogue to make you buy into the character. When you first meet someone in the street or at church, you don't get a big long explanation of them, or suddenly recieve a flashback that let's you know all about them. You learn about them through observation. This is how I'm trying to approach my characters, though it is hard, cuz I do want to give long descriptions and explanations, but I'm getting better.

  2. Building on what Nikki says, I think you need to spend time with your characters in order to develop them. Don't write books about casual acquaintances or they're going to seem shallow. Get to know your characters on a deep and intimate level. Learn about them through observation. Write lots of scenes with them, even scenes that aren't going in your book. Have them tell you their life history.

  3. Sometimes I put my character in my real-life situations with me and figure out how they would react, what they would be doing. It helps me get to know them better. A little schizophrenic I know, but it helps...

  4. Jessie, me too! My characters go everywhere with me. I find myself wondering how this person I just met would like so-and-so, or how one of my characters would approach a situation. Gosh... They almost sound like make-believe friends when put that way.

  5. Wow, there's a way of putting it. Our characters ARE make-believe friends, literally!

    How do I build my characters? Well, I start off with a story idea and a basic problem that they are to face. I don’t consciously decide which character would fit a story best—it just comes to me as I write. Sometimes it comes to me as I brainstorm a plot how my character will feel and react to a certain situation. I sometimes meticulously plan a scene what he is wearing, what he will be thinking down to his facial expression as he battles against a protagonist (internal or external).

    I start thinking of my characters as real people and imagine their facial structures, body builds, voice tones... I make them real by giving them real problems and real feelings and real reactions.

    Have you ever thought of acting out scenes with friends or family members?

  6. I'm always studying characters when I read, picking apart why they worked or didn't work, considering what I can do to make my characters more interesting to make my readers love them. Or hate them, if that's the goal. The important thing to remember is that even the worst of characters have good characteristics (even Voldemort took good care of Nagini and his motivations were understandable--if totally twisted), and the people we want our readers to love have to have some flaws, even if they aren't huge.

    The biggest compliment I ever got was when one of my critique members told me that she had fallen in love with my hero--and that her husband had given her absolution for it. =)

  7. I think characters are the easiest for me, since I've spent years and years acting, and now directing theater. So when I write out my cast of characters, each one is a living breathing soul--who is so real I could touch them. They all have quirks, good and bad and they all have little mannersims and insecurities and sayings that they love.



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