Characters have to sing on the page.
In all of that white space where once they did not have life, you, as the writer, give them life.
So I often have to say to my clients, to make their characters more rounded; to think of them as real people, with pasts, and experiences that have shaped them. They are a composite of all their friends, experiences, desires. Desire is important because what a character wants drives the action… and people tend to forget this. Knowing this one single thing, what a character wants, gives you the blueprint for story, a basic shape and the burning question of the story that the climax must answer/solve/resolve. But here’s the thing, just because you know all of the back story and foibles of character, have done your homework, know how they became the way they became remember this has to sit between the lines in the white silence of the page. The worst thing you can do is reveal it in big cluttering blocks of oh by the way you need to know exposition. Got it?
Characters have flaws; demons hiding in their cupboards and this is also vital for plot because these will form the basis of the twists and the turns of the story; facing the demons, a nemesis the antagonist might exploit, right?
Characters must have quirks; those things that make them individual; they always sing Abba when they feel apprehensive, they draw figures 8s on blotter pads when they’re thinking. They wear clothes that colour coordinate with mood… what is it that makes the different from everybody else? This adds depth and layering to character, this is what makes them memorable. Characters have to be memorable.
Characters have voice and this is also a vital part of how you allow them to connect to the reader. These days, as we move away from authorial voices we hear what our characters have to say. Not only do we hear them we invade them. Sure this is evident in first person but even in third-person, most these days tend to be limited or subjective viewpoints. The reader knows just from the way you structure the narrative on the page who speaks and thinks like that. This is voice.
Creating believable and above all relatable characters is not rocket science, but it does make all the difference to the reader. If they care, they’re reading to the end. If characters are flat and wooden, stereotypes, predictable they’re closing the book, not finishing the story. If you give them life in all of that white space then truly GIVE THEM LIFE. Make them sing.
Character is the essence of story; it beats at its heart. Are you with me on this one?
So who is your favourite fictional character? Who does this for you?
Me… Atticus Finch perhaps?