Sunday, September 7, 2008

On The Blog Chain - How Real Are Your Characters?

It's time for the blog chain again. It's my turn in the rotation. I'm pretty late in the round and you can follow the chain from the beginning by going to Leah's blog. The Astute Abi posted just before me, and the Creative Cole is next. All of the amazing blog chain gang links can be found in my sidebar.

The topic for this chain is: How real do your characters become? Are your characters real people to you? How much do you really know about them?

I had an interesting conversation with my sister-in-law early in the writing process of my first novel. I was telling her about the main character, and I suppose I was a little over-excited about him. She interrupted me and said, "You act like this person is real."

I didn't know what to say. I was shocked she didn't realize he was real. At least to me. And I'm hoping that he will become real to others as they read the book, too. I think that's the ultimate goal as an author—to create characters readers can't stop thinking about. And to do that, you have to evoke an inner emotion. So I start with the inside of my characters, and work my way out.

As I think about the story I want to write, a character develops in order to grow and change during the tale. I know how they would react to other characters, situations, and dilemmas. I know their past and future, even if they don't. I know what they want, even if I don't always give it to them. I understand why their story is being told, their deepest desires, and their heartache when they can't have what they desire most. I may not know if they enjoy snow skiing, but I know why they need to tell their story, and what drives them to do the things they do.

So much of what I know about my characters doesn't even make it into the story, but has formed them into the character they are. If there's something I need to know about a character at a particular place and time, I think about what I already know about that character, and make sure whatever I invent for them is consistent with who they are.

When I write, I watch the story like a movie, the characters telling me what they feel, want, and need. Just as in movies—or real life—my characters don't always know everything about each other. But I do. I feed the reader, and the other characters, little bits of information they need at the moment to move the story along.

To sum it up, I know my characters from the inside out. In the beginning it doesn't matter what they look like, their favorite food, or if they wear glasses. I start with characters that need something, want something so badly they're willing to die for it, or just have a deep desire to love fiercely. I believe those inner feelings and desires are what make characters real. To me, and to everyone who loves to read.

Don't forget! Cole is next! Check out her thoughts on characters.


Abi said...


Excellent post! I love the look I get when someone I'm talking to doesn't get that my character is real to me. It makes me laugh. And you're right, knowing your character's innermost desires makes for a better portrayal. Great job.


Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Great post!

I also think that it is very cool that you can talk aloud about your characters so early in the writing process. I usually have to be pretty far into something before I will discuss it and even then I have trouble expressing it out loud. Anyway, it is very cool you can be vocal in your enthusiasm!

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Good post! I like the part about building your characters from the inside out.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Loved your story about talking with your sister-in-law. Of COURSE they're real!! ;-)

H. L. Dyer said...

Another lovely post, Elana! :)

I completely agree about the outside characteristics. I added a lot of those at the end (the ones that didn't affect the plot/character). ;)

Michelle McLean said...

It's interesting how many of us say we see our stories like movies in our heads. And yeah, I get the weird looks too, mostly from my husband as I'm muttering to myself about plotlines and characters over a sink full of dishes :D

Anonymous said...

I totally understand the weird looks when muttering to yourself. I get that a lot. And the characters are totally real, people just don't understand!

See Elana's recent blog posts

Recent Posts Widget