No matter what genre you are writing in, stories are all about characters – what they do, what they think and how they feel. Importantly, what drives them to do the things they do.
Creating a character is a bit like an artist sketching a person. We often start with physical details – the hair, the skin, the way they hold their hands – and then we build on the internal aspects of that character. What are they really like inside? The more you can ‘visit’ with your character, so to speak, the more they will grow because you are learning about them. What makes this character tick? What values do they hold most dear?
For the writer, there are a few things to help this process along. We can ask questions of the character by building a profile. We can make them speak, via dialogue, so learn more about them that way. And we can show them ‘in action’. Just like we get to know and understand people through their actions – how they act and react – so too a character can be revealed through what they do.
And just like people we know in real life, your character will have realistic flaws, specific values, likes and dislikes – and a history or back story. Our characters will have led a life before your story starts. And that knowledge of your character will inform everything they do. Though it doesn’t mean that we throw everything at the work – the reader doesn’t need to know that your character eats avocado for breakfast or that they hate spiders – but as an author, it helps if you know some of those things.
So we get to know our characters and convey that knowledge in the story.
How you breathe life into your character is where you bring the writer’s craft into play. This can happen through the use of dialogue, through description, via the use of specific details, both physical and emotional, and especially through your character’s voice and point of view. It can happen through the conveying of your character’s thoughts, feelings and memories.
All of these things will help to create a portrait of your character, just like meeting somebody in real life. And that’s when a character can come to life.
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