November 13, 2012

Characters

I don’t have too much to say about characters actually. They all differ, they are all crucial to your story, and they are all carrying something of yourself.

That’s right, I subscribe to the idea that there is a little bit of the author in every character. Yes, even the murderer, and yes, even the politician. We are all.

Characters build over time. Some are planned in advance, perhaps the reason a story unfolds in the first place, whereas others are born during the outlining phase. Main characters usually pop up in your mind before you start writing since they’re probably pushing your story forward, but support characters are sometimes invented while writing. I see no problem with this, other than that unplanned characters are often introduced with just one purpose: To move the story forward. That’s not wrong by itself of course, but even small characters need to be believable, otherwise you’ll risk breaking the reader’s spell.

A good character is believable. A bad one isn’t.

Making a character believable is all about what the character says and does, less about how you present the character. It is not at all about why you introduced the character to the story in the first place. This is where the whole there’s a bit of the author in every character thing comes into play. You’ll no doubt write better characters that have something in common with you than the ones that don’t. I still think writers tend to find something from themselves and insert it into characters. It could be anything from a memory of a cashier who talked in a certain way, to personal experiences. All is fair game, just as long as it improves your characters.

If you’re the organized type you probably have files on your characters, no matter how important they are. Some files probably consist of just the character’s name and a telling trait, whereas others list their goals, hopes and dreams. It might sound like overdoing things when it comes to minor characters, but keeping tabs on what these characters actually want will make it easier for you to make them believable. It is the little things that make characters seem real.

Characters are both easy and hard.

They are easy because when you get to know them, when you have figured them out (at least somewhat), you’ll have no trouble writing their dialogue and making them believable.

They are hard because it is not really possible to take any shortcuts. Just throwing a character into the story when you need one won’t make it a good character, you’ll have to figure out what the character is all about before you can write about it in a believable manner.

Some writers claim that their characters talk to them, and that they can’t “write them” until they turn real. Whatever floats your boat I say, but to me characters are more about planning and less about inspiration. You’ll come up with an idea for a character one way or the other, but then you need to do the basic research about it so that you know who the character is supposed to be. Not only for your story, but as a whole, because this will make you write it more believable.

Believable.

That’s the key, you know. Making your character believable. However you end up doing this really doesn’t matter.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.