Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Look at Those Warts!

"Look at those warts!"

Look at those warts? Some statement, huh?

Who would make an exclamation like this? Of whom would the person be speaking? And to whom would the person be speaking?

As can be seen, at least three characters are involved in this exchange.

Let's assume these three people are the three main characters in a story.

But who are these people?

As readers, we get to sit back and enjoy ourselves as writers tell us (in an entertaining way, hopefully) everything we ever wanted to know about the characters they have created.

As writers it is up to us to transform our characters into real people.

A few weeks ago I wrote about creating characters who inspire.

Today I'd like to explain how to make characters real.

So how do we make our characters believable and real? We, as writers, must know every detail about our characters. While the physical characteristics may be easy to develop, it isn't always easy to know what is in the hearts and minds of characters. A good way for a writer to get to know his characters is to interview them. Ask them questions such as: How much education have you had? Where did you go to school? Where have you lived? Do you practice a particular faith? If so, which one? If you're new at this, start with the easy questions like these.

The answers to more profound questions are the ones that are going to get a writer deeper into the heart and head of a character. And the deeper we writers get into the heart and head of a character, the better we know him, the better our chances become of helping our readers to get to know and understand our characters.

Great characters are what make stories memorable. We readers need only to hear the name of a memorable character to remember an entire story we've read--sometimes only the first name such as with Scarlet, Heidi or Heathcliff. What do you think of when you hear names like these: Harry Potter? James T. Kirk? Tom Joad? Felix Unger? (plays count too) Jane Eyre? Mary Poppins? Ebenezer Scrooge? Tom Sawyer?

Each of these characters brings to mind something specific such as magic with Harry Potter and Mary Poppins, poverty with Tom Joad, fastideousness for Felix, tenacity for Captain Kirk, stinginess for Ebenezer and trickery with Tom Sawyer. Yet we all know these characters are much deeper than these first impressions or whatever characteristic you associated with each of these names. If these people weren't real, each in his or her own way, we'd soon forget them and the stories of which they were a part.

To make your characters rich in personality, your antagonists as well as your protagonists, ask them thought-provoking questions like these: If your beloved dog and a stranger were both drowning and you could save only one of them, which one would you save? Were you abused as a child? How would you seek justice if someone kidnapped your wife, husband, child... Do you think abortion is murder? Do you believe in sin, Heaven, Hell.... Do you think the Three Stooges are funny?

Ask dozens of questions of all of your main and support characters, the more the better. Once you've done this, you will know your characters thoroughly.

Knowing your characters will provide you with the information you will need in order to let your characters act naturally when they are confronted with a situation, whether it is major or minor. When characters act naturally, or "in character" they are believable--even in a fantasy world.

So who exclaimed, "Look at those warts!"?

How about you figure it out. If you are so inclined, leave a comment on my blog and tell me who the three characters involved with this statement are. I bet we could come up with dozens of different personalities.

I hope you have a great week. Happy reading, happy writing and happy imagining.

Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Writer

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