Friday, March 12, 2010

Making Characters Real

How do you make characters real?
    Lots of opinions and methods around this one. Some writers sit in malls and observe people for hours, others record dialogue in restaurant booths or use acting techniques to go deep into the motivations and mindset of the character. Whatever combination of tools, the character must become a real person whose story unfolds.
    I joke that I know my characters better than my friends. Sadly, it’s not a joke at all, but I think that’s okay. You see, by the end of a book, I know everything there is about my characters. I know their hopes, dreams, fears, failures, guilt. I know how they feel when someone loves or slights them. Their favorite foods are different than mine, but I understand their tastes and cravings. 
    What’s revealed in the book is only a small part of the “real” person. You don’t see all the backstory that made them who they are: breaking a tooth in a bike fall as a kid, being picked last for the grade school team, having your toy accidentally broken by your drunken father, watching as a kitten gets run over in the street. Oh, wait...those are all my backstory.
    Friends ask me if real people show up in my stories. Well, contrary to all the disclaimers in the front of books, the answer is a qualified yes. My mom shows up a lot. She’s a funny person with a flamboyant personality. Who better to include? However, it’s not really her in the book. I might include a funny line of hers, a mannerism, a story, but the character has different goals and abilities, more or less money, and usually isn’t as entertaining!
    Characters are as complex as real people--and as a writer, I have to know them better. The good news is if I get tired of them I can change them or write them out of the story!

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