In my last post, I talked about how we can’t forsake the real people that we know for the sake of literary characters. That said, I’m going to talk about getting to know your characters better! This post was inspired by Rachel Coker’s over at Go Teen Writers (Note: I am refraining from reading the post until after I write this one because I don’t want to plagiarize. My post here was inspired by her title, not her article! ^.^)
I really never get tired of talking about characters, especially mine. If you want to get an author talking, ask them about their book – especially their characters! My sister Riah is convinced that I’m going to know my future husband right off the bat because I’ll be scribbling away and he’ll say “What are you doing?” And I’ll say “Writing in my book.” And he’ll say “What’s it about?” (Every writer’s love story, I’m sure!)
When I’m asked about my book, especially whatever project I’m working on at the moment (now: Monster, which is at 179 pages and 43, 116 words) I get this hyper, giddy feeling and I start talking so fast that I get excited and I trip over my own words. A few people who haven’t read my books have remarked “Well, it’s obvious to see you love it!”
But falling in love with a character isn’t everything. Is it important? YES! I personally believe it’s one of the most important things when writing. If you don’t absolutely love it, if you aren’t enraptured and swept away by your characters, then your book will probably just be… a book. There have been numerous times when I’ve put down a story and said “Well, it would have been good if there had been more character development,” or “It had a good story, but the characters were flat.”
Characters are what make a book. Just the other day, my brother gave me a book to read and I wanted to like it. I really, really did… but I was bored by the third page. (Yes, I gave it a better shot. Still bored.) When he asked why I didn’t like it, I said “It was all plot and politics and hardly any character or dialogue!”
So falling in love, while greatly important (it’s really what makes the writing process so amazing) isn’t the only thing. There is more to love than just feelings. You have to spend time with the person you love – even if that person is made of ink and words and keys on a keyboard. So many people come up with fantastic ideas for characters, but when they’re actually written, the characters fall short of their true potential.
You’ve got to get to know your character. Essentially, you have to date them. (I’m not really going to go into the fact that I don’t date; I’m using this as an analogy). When you date someone, what do you do? You pay attention to them, you focus on every little thing they do, you ask them questions, you do things with them. Characters are even better – you don’t have to spend hours prepping in front of a mirror because they don’t care what you look like; they just want attention.
And every once in a while, you have to sit back and let them do the talking. Let them tell you about themselves. After all, when you’re meeting someone, you don’t sit down and immediately tell them everything you know about them – you let them tell you! People usually have the misconception that the author is in charge of the story.
I beg to differ. The characters are in charge of the story, and if we don’t properly date them, we won’t have enough information to go on. How does your character’s hair look like when he first gets up in the morning? What song does she absolutely hate? What does he want the most in life? Has she ever had a fight with a friend?
Often, the reason we have trouble pounding characters out onto the page is because we aren’t doing it right. Buy them a Starbucks, sit down with them, and ask them about themselves. If they’re the character they are meant to be, they’ll tell you.