I honestly wonder sometimes: why do writers find it so hard to understand their characters? They’re people who don’t actually exist, but they’re still people. (Aliens and other such things is a little different, so let’s focus on just humans for this post.) They should talk like people, walk like people, and have layers of personality and secrets like real people. So why do writers find them so hard to make ‘real’?
The way I always view it, ‘creating’ my characters is more discovering who they are than just coming up with a laundry list of traits and flaws. It’s like developing a friendship (albeit a sometimes awkward friendship) with a stranger. At first, you don’t even know their name, and only have a basic grasp on their physical appearance, but you don’t really know them.
Then, they begin to open up a little. You get a name, a favorite color, maybe. Depending on the personality type, you might even get hints of a backstory, or learn quickly that they have a lot to hide. You don’t really want to pressure them about all that before you really know them better, though, so you begin to talk. You pick up on their speech patterns and habits–she likes to laugh and say ‘you know?’ as she flips her hair away from her face; he keeps his arms crossed and avoids eye contact. Now you’re starting to learn a little about them, but there’s still so much more you don’t know.
Eventually, you begin to fill in all the pieces of the puzzle, to the point where you can not just give a laundry list of what they look like, do, think, etc, but where you can actually understand them as a person. It’s really quite a fun and interesting experience. 🙂
And sometimes, they’ll lie to you, or at least hide things and dodge questions. I just found out something deep and personal about one of my characters, Lena, today; something I thought I knew but was actually quite wrong about. And not only has it helped me understand her better, but it’s helped me–and hopefully now my readers–connect with her more.
Getting to know your characters better may take some digging at times, but it’s worth it. Learn to become a keen observer, ask yourself why he always keeps his arms so close to his chest, or how she got that scar she won’t talk about. Don’t just write them down as facts about the characters, discover the stories behind them. Because really, characters are made up of many different stories; stories within a story…storyception! 😉 Haha.
Maybe I’m just silly. Yeah, my characters may not exist in real life, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t, you know? And they’re just as humans as you and I, so why should I write them as anything less?
When it comes down to it, the thing people care most about in stories are the characters. They may admire a creative plot or a pretty landscape, but the characters and their stories are what will captivate them, make them want to cheer them on! Sure, they may care about the Sith being defeated or the Ring being destroyed, but without characters to take on those roles, those stories all fall pretty flat, don’t you think?
So, I’ve got a little challenge for you. It might seem a little silly, but you’d be surprised what the results can be. 🙂 Are you ready for this?
Have a conversation with one of your characters. You can write out what you say or just keep it in your mind, but make sure you write down your character’s responses! Talk about something simple–you should know them well enough to know what they’re interested in–and then try asking them some harder questions. Pay close attention to their speech patterns and habits (if you need some advice on that, just check out this) and observe how your character reacts! Who knows? You might just be surprised what you find out. 🙂
And if you’d like, feel free to share what you discovered in the comments. I’d love to hear them! 🙂