Wednesday, February 11, 2009

And you are...? And you are with...?

Characters, characters, and more characters. Who are these people? Do we even care who all these people are? Oh, you betcha! Character development is a critical component of any story, regardless of form, length, or genre. While our discussion may touch on horror or crime fiction characters, this is an element of writing we must all be very aware of.

'Susie walks slowly and silently down the dark hallway, fearing the moment she will reach the doorway at the end.' Really? Why? And, who is this 'Susie'? Why is she fearful of walking down a dark hallway? Is it because she thinks there might be a hole in the floor that might cause her to sprain an ankle? Or, is she afraid because as a child, her nanny used to drag her down this very hallway and chain her in one of the rooms? Does it matter which?

'Mary held the gun steadily in both hands, and looked into John's eyes for the last time. She smiled a soft smile, then pulled the trigger and he fell.'

What was Mary and John's relationship? Did he threaten to kill her and she was acting in self defense? Did Mary have a break with reality and think John was someone out of her past who used to abuse her? Or, is she a female serial killer who decided John would be her next victim? Do you need to know which?

These two examples are illustrations of a story's possible events. Now, just reading them as is, with no other information, they don't really hit you very hard as a reader, do they? Gee, somebody's scared. Oh my, somebody shot somebody. You move on and possibly skip the next few pages so you can find another event that might be a bit more interesting. Why? Characters. Or actually, the lack thereof.

When we write a character, be they major or minor, we can't just 'write' them. We need to 'create' them. We need to make them living, breathing, feeling beings that come right up off the paper and assault the reader's senses. The way we do this is to give them a life. We, as human beings, have pasts, we have memories, we have events that may have altered or helped to shape our lives, we have friends, we have likes, dislikes, etc. All these things are part of that which makes us what and who we are. Well, we need to also provide our characters with pasts, memories, events that may have altered or helped to shape their 'lives', friends, likes, dislikes, etc. All the things we have and are we must create for them.

Writers draw from different sources when they create characters. Some draw from their own lives, others draw from observations they make, still others use a combination of both. Whatever your 'inspiration', if you will, for the development of your characters, they must become three-dimensional; they must become 'real'. Otherwise, the things that happen to them, around them, or because of them, are meaningless. Nothing loses a reader's interest quicker than a story with characters you have no interest in; the reason being, you don't know them and frankly, can't know them either because the writer wouldn't let you.

We need to be able to open our hearts, our minds, and yes, our very lives, to these beings we create. It is necessary for us to infuse them with anger and hope, fear and happiness, sorrow and loyalty. 'Humanize' them. Make it so that the reader wants to laugh with them, cry with them, spy on them or tell on them. Make it so that the reader wants to bond in some way with your characters.

You can put explosions in there, gunfights, winged dragons spitting fire, and believe that's enough to carry the story, but unfortunately, without the core of 'real' people in there, the temptation is going to be strong for the reader to 'skim'. As writers, all our words are important. If they weren't relevant,we wouldn't have put them in there to begin with, right?

We want our readers to climb inside our stories from word one and stay there until we're ready to release them. One way to accomplish that is through the strength of each and every one of our characters. Don't be afraid to let your readers get to know them - and you.


  1. I create character profiles. I want to know as much detail as possible about my characters (even if it doesn't make it in the story). I won't know what I'll need until I begin writing. But, more has been better I found in bring my characters to life.

    Great post!


  2. That is so true. They have to have 'lives' and pasts and thoughts and feelings and... That is what makes them come up off the paper and leap in the minds of our readers. Then, the story grabs the reader and that's what we are after.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Jaimie.