Characters to Life
character is one of the most
rewarding parts of being a writer. It's also
one of the most difficult.
Too many times in fiction we witness the
"cardboard" or one-dimensional
character. It takes more than the snap of a
finger to create real
characters, those we can visualize and root
for and love. Instead, they
develop over time, over many hours spent
As a writer,
to think of the development
of characters as being a process, a life
cycle, instead of a moment of
genius creation. One of Inspiration for
Writers most requested workshop
is "The Life
Cycle of a Character,"
which breaks getting to know a character into
initial spark, the idea that originally causes
us to want to create
this character. Sometimes the plot generates a
a story we want to tell and we need a
character to tell it by.
Sometimes we see a setting—a country
porch with a dilapidated
us wonder what kind of person lives there.
Sometimes we run
across a photograph that sparks our
imagination and we create
personality to go with the physical features.
Or sometimes we see a
possession like an antique spinning wheel and
wonder the type of person
who would own such a thing. Whatever the
cause, writers conceive a
character from an idea.
phase, we need to start
assigning characteristics (knowing that once
our character takes on a
life of his own, he may change any of our
assumptions about him). But,
to get started, we still go through the paces.
You may find it helpful
to use a Character
Chart to assign
physical description and background
when we pick up the limp character that we
assigned physical attributes
and psychological traits to, hold him in our
arms, and breathe the
breath of life into him from our very own
souls. It's also the turning
point -- his actual birth—and
we cease having absolute control over him.
life is when our character has
a goal or "character statement." What, more
than anything else in the
world, does this character want? Consider the
- To become wealthy so the love of my
return my love.
- To have fun.
- To keep my family together.
- To break into the Rock 'n Roll charts
a rock star.
As you can
character's goal can be as deep
or as vapid as the individual. Note that for
some characters, this
statement may be a life goal, but for others,
it may change as the
character matures. Regardless, this is what
motivates our character,
and we must understand this motivation if we
are to continue to add
depth to his personality.
Part of a
birth is the "layering" of
personality traits. I have found that a good
book of the Zodiac that
includes both star signs and moon signs is a
"cheap" way to add
dimension to a character. Also, I search
psychology books for
complementary traits. Using resources can help
with your writing. For
example, you may find that alcoholics often
possess irrational fears
and suspicions or that a criminal skyjacker
often has a religious
mother who confided in him, that bed wetters
are often aggressive and
have difficulty adapting to new situations.
These are the types of
traits that add dimension to our characters.
our character begins interacting with his
environment. How does
the setting of the story affect him? What is
going to happen to him and
how will he react to what happens to him? What
conflict or fatal flaw
will prevent him from achieving his goal? How
will he overcome this
conflict or flaw? How will he grow?
final fleshing-out of a character. We now add
body language (be
sure to study a good body language text to
understand how posture,
facial expressions and mannerisms affect the
way we are received by
others) and dialogue to our character. We need
to give him a
distinctive voice, not just externally, but
the way he will think in
internal dialogue. Perhaps most importantly,
we need to understand his
emotional makeup. To fully understand our
character, we need to
mentally try him out in several emotional
scenes so that we can know
how he will react.
never die. Never.
to a character is much like being a parent. We
do the best we can
for our characters, give them years of our
lives, our love and
understanding, but the day comes when they
rebel and say, "Enough. Let
me be me," and we must allow them to live
their own lives. And that is
when we as writers have truly given life.
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