Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Characters That Become Real

by Elizabeth S. Craig/ @elizabethscraig

PinnochioAt some point when we’re writing our book, there comes a happy time when our characters become real. It’s like Pinocchio turning into a real boy.

Of course, it’s only natural to have it happen over time. Think about how well you know the closest members of your family or your oldest friends. You can almost predict their reaction to any given situation that comes up. You know what they’ll say, what they’ll do, how they’ll act. You almost know what they’ll think. That’s because we’ve spent so much time with them.

That’s, I think, one of the main reasons I love series so much. I love them as a writer because I want to hang out more with the characters I’ve created. As a reader, I become invested in other authors’ characters. I’ve spent a lot of time with them, gotten to know them. They’ve either made me laugh or made me sad or even scared me. I feel like I know them and it’s easy to go to the writer’s next book in the series because I don’t have to do all the work of learning new characters again…I already know the main ones.

When we’re writing the first book in a series, or a standalone, we have to work a little harder to get acquainted with our characters. I’ve heard lots of different approaches for doing this. The most popular are to base the character on a person the writer knows, make the character an amalgam of different personalities the writer knows, and use character worksheets to help flesh the character out.

One of the ways I like to get to know a character is to spend the day with my character by imagining them near me throughout the course of my day—thinking about how they’d react in the situations that I face, how they’d handle things differently, what they’d rather be reading or watching on television.

Once you know your character, you really know him. I’m still editing that first backlist book of mine and I keep thinking (horrified), “Myrtle would never say something like this!” I’ve deleted a ton of dialogue. It’s funny that I feel almost offended that Myrtle had the wrong words coming out of her mouth. But then….the book was written over five years ago. Myrtle has evolved over time. And her voice has gotten stronger.

How do you make your characters real? Do your characters evolve over time?