A Question of Character(s)
You are a writer. Within you are worlds upon worlds. Multitudes. You have crafted worlds of heroes, heroines, anti-heroes, anti-heroines, villains, and innocent bystanders. All of these children of your imagination are vying for a place to stand and deliver on your page. Your characters are important pieces of your work and you have to get them right by translating the idea of them in your head into the reader’s head through the page.
Well, That Was Wordy
Yeah, sorry. I’m just trying to impart a little gravitas to the proceedings. Because if you get your characters wrong your plot, even if it’s a good one, will suffer for it.
So, What Do I Do?
Get it right. How you do that is the sticky part. I know you’ve probably spent as much time studying your craft as you have actually getting words on the page. All that advice on structure, plot, and characterization has served you well and you’ve got a solid foundation. So instead of more advice that may or may not apply to you, what say we take a look at what good characterization does?
Reels ’em in, er Makes the Reader Care
There’s a book you have read at some point in the past where the characters impressed themselves on you in a way that made you think of them as people. An emotional connection was made. I’m not talking only about the iconic characters like Sherlock Holmes or Holden Caufield. Any character in any book where you cared about what happened to that character indicates the author did a good job of making that character “real”.
As a writer it helps to ask yourself a couple of questions while you are character building;
- What does this character want?
- Is this character a good (or bad) person?
- How would this character respond in situation X (whatever the plot or an event in your story is)?
- What has happened in the life of this character to make them who they are at this point in the story?
In order to make your characters stand out, it’s important to know where they stand…morally, and emotionally. Take the second to last question, ask yourself how your character would respond to emotionally or morally taxing situations. Would she lie to save her life? Another’s life? Would she kill to save a life? What would her rationale be?
Okay, What Else?
Coming up with great characterizations might be hard for you, and that’s ok. We all have areas of strength and weaknesses we have to surmount. But unless you live on a mountaintop in the high Andes where not even the sheep will go you live in a world of friends, family, and perfect strangers all of whom can be an inspiration for your characterizations.
Note I said inspiration. What you shouldn’t do is transplant people wholesale to your fictional works no matter how flattering you think it is. However, if Uncle Louie has a way of always being able to talk himself out of trouble take a look at the how of it and apply it to a character of your own. Again, don’t just transplant Uncle Louie into your work, that’s rude. Taking a bit from person A and a bit from person B is fair game. It worked for Arthur Conan Doyle in creating Sherlock Holmes.
So go on, create the kinds of characters people will name their children after, and have a blast doing it!