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ANN BRADY

Author, Speaker & Mentor

HAVING CHARACTERS YOU CARE ABOUT

When creating your characters you need to ensure that they can and will come alive within the story. Failing to do this could leave your readers feeling deflated. In order to assist you, we are going to offer a few useful tips on how you can develop the best characters possible.


One of the best ways to bring out the best in your characters is to believe that they are real people. That usually means talking to them, living and breathing them. They often become so real that you sometimes think you are losing your mind – but you’re not.


A reader friend of mine was so engrossed in the Harry Potter 6 book that when a certain character died she was heartbroken. (We'll call him X to keep from spoiling the book if you haven't read it yet). Whilst another person I know had a serious crush on Edward Cullin, the sexy vampire hero of Stephanie Meyer's popular Twilight series. Mind you, I really do start to get worried when I find one of my friends showing up for a lunch date with dark circles under her eyes. Apparently, she'd been up half the night finishing a mystery novel she couldn’t put as she was afraid the fictional detective was going to be murdered by the Mob.


From what I know none of these people have shown any signs of mental illness. But what makes readers become so engrossed in a character that they just cannot stop reading about them? To the point of believing them to be real.  Well, it’s all down to those writers who have this wonderful ability to make perfectly sane readers cry and fall in love, or lose sleep over their fictional characters. And believe it or not, you can learn how to do that as well.


So what does it take to invent your characters


The question to ask yourself is where do fictional characters come from? We know they aren’t delivered by the stork; nor do they grow in the cabbage patches. Whilst these two ideas may appear to be possibilities it’s just not feasible as story characters can pop up just about anywhere.


So how do we go about starting to create a character?


Well, there is nothing wrong with looking around you and seeing what is out there in your world.  Let’s say you see someone walking down the street or standing in the queue in the supermarket. Open your mind to imagining what sort of life that person might lead. Once you start thinking about the possibilities then you have your first fictional character.


Another option is to take a picture of a person from a magazine. Again using your imagination give that person a name, then think about the sort of personality they might have. As you develop their character you can imagine what their hopes, fears, and annoying habits might be.


Try something different by searching through the phone book. Flick it open to any page and choose a random name from that page. Let's say you come up with "G. Thompson." What could the "G" stand for? George, Gina, Gertie, Gillian. Always write down the first thing that comes to mind; for example, George. So let’s say you have chosen to have George Thompson. Start to imagine what George will look like. You will need to create a mental picture in your mind. For me, he could be a man who is tall, slender, maybe in his later thirties, with black curly hair and a moustache. Having got the basis of your fictional character start developing him into someone you can write about.


Get to know your characters


In order to be able to convince readers that your character is a real person, you have to first step convince yourself that he is real and that you believe in him.


Writer Patricia Highsmith once confessed to being a little bit in love with one of her characters, Tom Ripley. If you read Ripley's Game, I am sure you too will become fond of him. Something which may worry you as her character is both a sociopath and a killer.

A great way to get to know your characters is to write character profiles for each one. You should make notes about each character's appearance, personality, history, current situation, and close relationships, plus their hopes, and fears. You can build a list of specific questions that you want answered about each character. Mentoring Writers offer a free Character Profile Sheet upon request that helps you develop and build up the details of the person you have created, helping them to come to life. (contact@mentoringwriters.co.uk)


There is a downside to all this information gathering. Never try to stuff all the information you have about your characters into your story. After all, don't want to overwhelm your readers with a complete background file on them. The idea of a Character Profile Sheet is for you to develop a deeper knowledge of your character. That way you can use the knowledge to shape your story, letting readers get to know your character gradually as the story dictates.


When writing, each time you put your character into a certain situation with your story, you should ask yourself the question, "What would he or she do? How would he or she do it? And, what would happen next?" Write down the different answers, because believe it or not there will be more than one answer per situation. Once you have your answers you must decide which suits the situation best. Remember, never try to force a character into doing something that is not natural. If you cheat, your readers will know it and that will leave either your character or your story feeling unreal or false.


However, if you take note of, and utilise the deep knowledge you have of your characters then you will, through your writing, express this to your readers. It will be they who will feel, and possibly recognise, that they are reading about a real person. And that will be a result. Especially if like my reader friends they end up falling in love or worrying about what will happen to the character.


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