By Barbara Warren
What do you remember about your favorite books—plot, setting, characters? I’m guessing it’s the characters. The story-people who invite us into their world, giving us as readers an intimate glimpse into their lives—all the problems, sorrows, fears and joys they meet and endure.
While we may not have lived through the same turmoil they face we know what it is to be afraid, to suffer, to love someone, so we can identify with the characters. That’s what brings the person on the page to life so we can know them in a personal way. That’s also what keeps the reader turning pages, eager to know what comes next, wanting this character she’s come to care about not just to survive, but to win against all odds.
You, as the writer, should know all about your characters. Know his or her background, where they grew up and what influenced them. Know how she talks, how she dresses, how she reacts to life. Did he grow up poor and working for a living, or was he one of the privileged few who had everything handed to him? What sort of friends do they choose? What are their likes or dislikes? You won’t want to put all of this in your story, but it helps you to know the character you have invented the way you know your friends. And it will help make that character real to your reader.
Your main characters must be likable too. If the reader doesn’t like the characters, why would she care what happens to them? But at the same time, those characters must not be perfect. I’ve never met anyone in real life who was perfect, but I’m sure if I did, I would be bored to distraction. Think of the people you know, your friends, they have their own personality, their own way of looking at things, their own way of messing up. Your characters should be the same.
Don’t pattern your characters exactly like people you know, but think about those real people. Think about how their minds work. What does the way they dress reveal about their personality? How do they handle the ups and downs of life? How do they talk? Are they relaxed or uptight? All of these quirks can be used to create characters in your novel.
Creating character sheets help you answer these questions and I also like to write a short summary of my characters—what to they want, what stops them from getting it, how far will they go to get what they want. How would the person I’ve created react to the situations in which I place her? How can I make her come alive to my reader?
Knowing our characters intimately helps us create people so real the reader will remember them long after finishing our books. Spend time with that character, get to know him, you’ll be glad you did, and so will your reader.
Barbara Warren is a freelance editor with twenty years experience. Her editing firm, Blue Mountain Editorial Service has an extensive list of both published and non-published writers. For beginning writers she acts as a writing coach. She has had short stories and articles published in magazines such as Mature Living and Home Life. She is a member of the writing pool for Open Windows, the Southern Baptist devotional magazine. Her romantic suspense, Murder At The Painted Lady is available from Avalon Books. She has also authored The Gathering Storm and Deception: Fear The Heart of Darkness Masquerding as Light. She is one of the founders of the Mid-South Writer s group and has been a speaker at writer s conferences and area groups. Barbara and her husband, Charles, live on a farm in the beautiful Ozarks where they raise beef cattle.