Monday, April 25, 2016

Bringing Your Characters to Life

By Andrea Merrell

Last week, Alycia talked to us about the character arc. This week, let's talk about how to bring our characters to life.

Why is it that we love to watch certain movies and TV shows over and over? In most cases, it’s not the storyline; it’s because we love the characters.

My husband teases me about what he calls my obsession with Hallmark movies. “They’re all the same,” he says. “You know how they’re going to end. Don’t you get tired of them?”

My answer is always the same. “Nope. Love ‘em.”

So why do I love them? Do they have a great plot? Sometimes, but not always. Are they a little predictable? Perhaps. What makes the difference? For me it’s the characters. There are certain actors and actresses I will watch no matter what. Some I enjoy more than others. Even when they’re playing an entirely different role, you get to know them, along with their little quirks, habits, and facial expressions. They feel like family. In other words, I fall in love with the characters.

Isn’t that what we want our readers to do, fall in love with our characters? Absolutely. The question is … how to we accomplish that?

Creating Memorable Characters
As writers, we want our characters to be memorable. To accomplish that, we must introduce them in such a way that our readers will immediately connect with them. It’s best not to do this with backstory, and you don’t want to overwhelm your readers with too many details. Here are some things you can skillfully convey about your characters (but certainly not all at once):

  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Appearance
  • Interests
  • Habits
  • Quirks
  • Phobias
  • Desires
  • Fears

Make Your Characters Relatable
None of us are perfect. In light of that fact, we don’t want to read about perfect characters. Give them depth. You can highlight their strengths while exposing their weaknesses. They should be flawed—just like all of us—making them real and relatable.

Think about some of your favorite characters. What did you love about them? What did they do that frustrated you? What was it about them that was extremely predictable—or unpredictable?

Make the reader cheer for your protagonist and boo your antagonist. Show your reader early-on your protagonist’s goal—what he or she desires the most—and then allow your antagonist to keep that goal just out of reach.

Secondary Characters
For me, secondary characters can add important layers to a story. They can be funny, loveable, loyal, irritating, charming, mysterious, arrogant, or just plain goofy. Paint your picture so well that your readers can see your characters. When they do, they will remember your characters long after they read the last page of your story.  

What about you? Do you have anything to share about bringing characters to life? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of Miles/Master Isolated Images.)


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