Whether they love to love them or love to hate them, readers connect to characters. If you want your fiction to shine, your characters must be believable. You can’t accomplish this while you’re writing,
though; you have to do some homework first! Before you start writing a novel or short story, you need to know your main characters through and through. I’m not referring to the basics: good guy or bad guy, hair color, best friend, goal in life, and so forth. That’s just fluff. You should know where your character has been, and why he does what he does. If you take the time to know your characters on a very real level, that intimacy and depth will show in your writing.
Get to know your character.
To make a character believable, you need to make him as real as possible. In the real world, we are evolutions of every person we’ve encountered and every experience we’ve had. We are conglomerations of our past and, because of that, we are each unique. Therefore, in order to make your characters as unique as possible, you need to know everything about them. Ask your character questions about his past. What was his childhood like? What were his dreams? What were his best and worst memories?
Q & A
Once you have spent time delving into your character’s past and finding out how he has evolved, you should get to know who he is right now. Imagine that you’re developing a new friendship, and you’re filled with curiosity. Ask your character questions about himself. What are your character’s core values? What quirky things does he do? What are his secret fears? What makes him feel self-conscious or proud? If he could go anywhere in the world, where would he go? Does he have a favorite catch-phrase or gesture? I could go on and on because there is an infinite number of traits that make each person special.
Be a Good Listener
Although this information is important, it isn’t everything. Think about the way your character responds to these questions. Listen for the pitch and tone of voice. Does he respond openly and eagerly? Does he pause to reflect on his answer and carefully choose his words? Are his responses given in a sarcastic or self-deprecating manner? Are there certain gestures that you notice? How about body posture?
If you are writing in first person, you might consider writing some diary or journal entries from your character’s point of view. Of course, this loses the observation factor, especially with regard to body posture. But the word choice will still show through the writing. And, let’s face it: often, we’re much more honest writing in a secret diary than we are talking to a new acquaintance!
Slip It In
Some writers feel that such information isn’t necessary if it doesn’t really pertain to the plot. But just think about it: How many times do we make decisions based on our past experiences? How often do we slip new information about ourselves into a conversation? Don’t memories tend to sneak up on us when we’re doing the most mundane things? If you want your character to be believable, you need to allow him to experience the same things real people experience. That wealth of knowledge you’ve developed is not meant to be spoon-fed to your readers. It is supposed to glide into your writing as naturally as a thought pops into your head. When you give the control to your character during your draft, these glimpses will slip into the work without contrivance. You won’t need to tell the reader about your character because his natural proclivities will show, without your interference. In other words, by developing this close relationship with your character, you will be better able to walk in his shoes and allow his true self to surface.
Give It Time
No matter how many questions you ask, it simply takes time to get to know someone. The longer you know a person, the better you know a person. So, by the time you finish your draft, you will know your character much better than you did at the beginning (despite following these steps). Because of this, it is critical to review your work again with an eye to character. Make sure that the actions, reactions and dialogue at the beginning of your piece still embody the character that you now know so intimately. The editors at WordsRU can help you with this. During the editing process, their objective perspective can spot character inconsistencies and help to make your work seamless.
A Quick Re-cap:
- Know your character’s past
- Know your character’s present
- Observe the way your character speaks and acts
- Allow character details to fall into the writing naturally
- Revise, considering the stronger bond with your character
With these steps in mind, you will be able to form a solid connection with your characters; as a result, your readers will love them!
What questions do you ask your characters?