Saturday, January 1, 2011
Know Your Characters
That's a half assed effort that will only produce the same response from your readers, which will in turn, cost you them.
I don't know how many books I've picked up, where I've started to read and haven't gone beyond the first couple chapters--sometimes not even that far--because I didn't believe the characters. There wasn't any depth to them. No personality. It was like the writer didn't even know who they were, and yet they wrote the story anyway.
So. How do you get to know your characters?
Answer: Become them.
I know that sounds like some cheesy line from a bad movie but it is so true!
You can't just imagine what your characters would be like if they lived and breathed. You have to become them. Act the way they would, hear their voice in your ears--their accent or tone. React to things the way they would, move in the same manner. It is this way that you will discover things about your character you never knew. Or wouldn't have been able to think of just jotting things down in your 'character outline' at your desk.
It's a little like acting. True, your family may think you're a tad insane if/when you do this. Mine do. But sometimes it takes a little action to bring your writing to life.
Here's an exercise.
Let's say you're writing about a man who has just lost his family.
This is where you must bring your character to life. Perhaps in private. You don't want to scare the hell out of your family or friends. ;)
Think of yourself as this man. (ladies, pretend) This happy man. You have everything you ever wanted. A beautiful wife and two beautiful kids. Maybe even a dog named Rufus, and you all live in a nice little house in a subdivided neighborhood. You have a great job, great friends.
Now imagine that being taken away from you. Your wife is driving your kids home from school one day when another driver runs a red light--not seeing it because they were distracted momentarily--sending your family minivan spinning out of control upon impact...Straight into a telephone pole. With not enough time to stop, another car hits the side, killing them instantly.
Feel the tears stream down your cheeks as your hand clutches the phone at your ear. Dead. All of them...Gone. You'll no longer see the smiles on your children's faces. Hear their steady, peaceful breathing when you check on them at night. Never again feel the warmth of your wife's body beneath your arms, or hear your name on her lips.
Can you feel the grief? The slow anger building inside you at the injustice of it all? It isn't fair, is it? You're a good person. Why did this happen to you? To them?
Did you do it? Were you able to hear the anguish in your cries as you fell to your knees in despair? Now...How much better do you think your description of this character's life will be after having gone through (in a way) what he's gone through?
Poetry, while the character can often become objects, can also have this applied to it. In this case, however, you may have to become the object. Say you're writing a poem about a....Log. A lonely log that after many years, has become embedded in the soil beside a peaceful lake. Perhaps there's a willow over it? What things could this log have seen to make it so lonely? Or maybe it's not the log that is lonely, but the place itself, and this log is simply a testament to that fact. Lovers maybe? Lovers who carved their initials in its side and used to meet under this willow but have long since been absent? The concept is the same, only the subject is different.
I hope this has helped in some way or at the very least, given you something to think about.