Knowing Your Characters

You may have noticed that I’m not blogging as often as I used to.  And I apologize for that.

The truth is I’ve had a hard time coming up with topics to write about. Nothing exciting seems to happen to me, especially compared to some of my friends, who are moving to Africa or weeding out the possible serial killers in the dating pool. 

That’s not to say I have no interesting stories to tell. Unfortunately, the fun stories I have all relate to my job. I get to open the mail that kids send to our magazines. I get to read some of the funniest and most touching notes, but I can’t share them here. 

So I’ve decided to move back to writing focused posts, though I’ll try not to be technical for you non-writer readers. If there’s something specific you’d like to see me write about, let me know!

One of the hardest parts of writing a story, at least in my opinion, is getting the characters right.

Think about your favorite books and movies. Chances are, part of the reason you love them so much is because of the characters.

Vibrant characters can breathe life into a seemingly boring plot. Likewise, dull characters can drag an interesting story into monotony.

Which characters come alive to you?

Let’s take a look at one of my favorite books as an example: Little Women. On the surface, it appears rather mundane, as it simply follows the everyday lives of four sisters as they grow up. For the most part, the only drama is that of any siblings: squabbles, minor mishaps, and crushes on boys. What makes the story so compelling are the four girls themselves. We get to know them, laugh with them, and cry with them.

So how do you create such lovable characters?

Sadly, there’s no standard formula. But I can tell you what works for me.

I’ve always found that the characters I love the most are the realest ones. They are fully developed, with goals, quirks, flaws, and issues. They come alive on the page or screen. Their actions are completely logical considering their personalities and motivations.

That’s how I approach my characters. I see them as deep and dynamic. And just like in the real world, I have to spend time getting to know them. I’m often surprised by what I learn, but that just helps me tell their story better.

This can be accomplished in different ways. Some writers will answer questions about their characters, ranging from appearance to deepest fears (this site has links to quite a few different questionnaires). Some write descriptions of that character from other characters’ points of view to analyze actions and relationships. Some authors simply spend time thinking and reflecting on their character. If you’ve got trusted writer friends, tell them about your characters and have discussions about your characters. They’ll give you great ideas and insight.

Of course, the better writers use more than one method to learn about their characters. If you aren’t using any, though, just start with one. Don’t overwhelm.

For you writers: How do you get to know your characters?

For you readers: Who are some of your favorite characters and why?

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