Friday, June 26, 2009

Characters in the Novel – Making Them Real

Hi all,

Here is the next installment in my series on Novel Writing. I hope it helps you as you begin creating characters for your novel. Or, for those of you who are already writing your novels, I hope it helps you to look closely at your characters to make sure they are doing their job - making readers love or hate them! So, here we go...
(The image on the right is of two of my favorite people to write about - Harry Longabaugh alias the Sundance Kid and Etta Place. Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library.)

Characters in the Novel - Making Them Real

Having a great idea for your novel and building an exciting plot are all wonderful, but you cannot have a great story without believable characters. The characters are the core of the story; they move the plot along and keep the reader interested. Characters cannot be stick figures running around within the plot. They must be fleshed out and become real people you either love or hate, or at least empathize with.

When I am developing characters I sit down with paper and pen and make endless notes on each person. First I start with the lead characters, then I begin thinking about all the other people they will encounter throughout the novel, all the way down to the shop clerk that helps them in only one scene or the waitress at the bar. Think of it like casting a movie; you can’t only have the main characters, there have to be everyday people living their lives around the characters too.

So, let’s say I’m making my notes on the first character. I write out their full name, (with maiden name if married), date of birth, hair color, eye color, weight, height and so forth. I write down their interests, where they have lived, what jobs they have had, who their friends and family are. What are the characters strengths and flaws as a human being? I actually write out a little story of their life up until the novel begins, so I know this character intimately and how this person will react in any given situation. I do this for all the main characters. As I am writing the novel, these notes become invaluable in case I forget something about my character, I can look through the notes to get my facts right.

With less important characters I also flesh them out to the extent that I will be using them. If all they do is appear to serve the main character a meal, I just outline their physical appearance. If the character appears in small scenes throughout the novel, I like to know more about them and outline not only their physical attributes but also small habits, likes, dislikes, etc. All these little details make the characters real to the reader so the reader will begin to form a relationship with the characters and the story.

The most important thing you have to do when building characters is create people the reader will either like or dislike. The reader is going to spend a lot of time with these characters, and if the reader doesn’t feel connected to the characters, then he will put down the book and stop reading.

Throughout the novel, the characters also have to grow, change or somehow be affected by what is happening to them in the story. You can’t have some emotionless body walking through the mystery novel, murder novel or love story without somehow being affected by what transpires during the story. Just like a real person, a character has to continually learn and grow in order to seem real.

Building characters takes time, a great deal of effort, thought and imagination. Think about the people in your life, people you’ve met or ones you have seen in movies and on television. Every person has their own opinions, ideas, habits and quirks. No one person is perfect, and neither should your characters be perfect. Taking the time to flesh out every detail of your characters will make your novel come alive from the first page all the way through to the end.

Begin building your characters for your novel and start writing! The next installment of this series on novel writing will be on dialogue. If your characters do not know how to talk naturally to each other, then it won’t matter how real they appear.

Until then…

Happy writing!


1 comment:

  1. Wow! That's some solid advice you have there, Deanna! Thank you from one freelance writer to another. You're the best!

    Who's ready for an award? :o)

    Please stop by my little corner of the web to pick it up. Here's a link straight to the post: Your Award!



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