Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Making Characters Real

Several weeks ago, I read a romance novel that I’m still thinking about. I have no idea how it came to be in my To Read stack. It’s not really a book I’d purchase unless I planned to study that genre. Maybe that’s how I got hold of it.

I have to admit, I like the cover. A handsome hero with two beautiful little girls--twins. But that alone makes it an odd purchase for me. I don’t go for stories that involve a lot of kids.

I started reading this one, was immediately yanked into the story and couldn’t put it down. Here I am, weeks later, still thinking of these characters as if they’re real people, friends who live right down the road from me. Isn’t that what a writer wants? Works toward? Yeah, so I wonder what made these characters feel real to me. My kids are grown, don't even have grandkids--and, I really don't like being around undisciplined children. So ...

In this book:
The kids were spoiled and annoying.
The hero still lived with his mother.
The heroine acted as if she had all the answers.
The hero's mom was too stern for my liking.
The story was good--okay, better than good, so it all worked. But why?

Most of the time I think I’ve done a good job rounding out my characters but once the crit partners get hold of my pages, they come back marked up with lots of suggestions. One crit partner always says, "I just can't relate to her!." Only then do I realize I haven’t done my job. I've failed to dig deep into my character. I’ve been in too big a hurry to get to the next point.

There are a number of ways to make our characters real. Here are a few I know of:

Internal dialogue - Their thoughts reveal a lot.

Backstory. That’s the reason a character is the way he is.

Interaction with the other characters. This gives us a glimpse into personality traits; whether they're kind, snippy, rude, etc.

Voice, gestures, dialogue

Can you add more or tell how you might utilize some of the above? What makes fictional characters fit in with our reality, people we can relate to? Teach me something about making characters memorable.


Charles Gramlich said...

Such a tough question. We can come up with the items that need to be done in order to get a 'real' character, but there's still something magical about it. I guess that's why writing is a long way from being a science. I wonder also if characters that feel real to the writer feel real to readers as well.

Jess said...

Charles - I wonder if what feels real to me, will feel real to the next reader. I wonder if our mood plays a part too.

Angie said...

You pretty much covered it, Jess, but I did have one thought. Maybe if we bring a little bit of ourselves into our characters -- a past experience, a memory, a physical or personality trait -- it will make our fictional characters more realistic.

James R Tate said...

The book I'm working on now is written in third person so far, but I can't seem to convey the emotion of the character. I believe it is because the nuts and bolts of the story is ALL about this character and what he's going through--soooo--I've decided to try it in first person. I've never written a lengthy piece in 1st--and have heard that publishers prefer it not to be in 1st (Is it considered easier or require less from the writer?) I think first person will give me a chance to show the emotion I feel for this character. Thoughts?

Angie Kay Dilmore said...

James, I think writing in first person may be somewhat in vogue right now. I see a lot of it. And I would not say it is easier. If anything, it is more challenging. You absolutely have to stay in that character's head. That can be tricky.

Jess said...

Angie - I'm notorious for patterning my characters after family & friends--and old boyfriends. :) And there's a lot of ME in all my characters. maybe this isn't working for me. :)

James - I was told at one of the first conferences I attended to write my pieces in first person for the intimacy and then change them to 3rd person POV. Of course, there's definitely some re-write but I find myself doing that sometimes when I want to dig deeper. And as Angie says, first person is pretty popular right now. Especially in YA fiction. I personally don't like reading first person. The only time I do it is when the book yanks me in immediately and won't let me go.

Jess said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jess said...

My post showed up twice so I deleted the second one. :/

Bingo said...

I too am from Louisiana...
God brings us together.

Jess said...

Bingo - thanks for visiting my blog and for following. Where did you live in Louisiana?