I hope everyone had an awesome Thanksgiving, and four day weekend (at my house there was pie everywhere—and no, we didn’t have any fights we had to clean up).
Today is the first ever Fiction File—posts just for you fiction writers (you copywriters can get a snack or something—we’ll come back for you later).
Remember what I told you fiction folks, about returning to characterization in a future post? Well, that’s right now. This File is about making characters as flesh-and-blood real as you can. How do you transfer a super-cool character from your head to your readers’ heads? You’ve practiced for this every day of your life, but maybe never realized it.
I’ll use myself as an example. Many of you who read this have come to know me personally. How did you do that? Some of you met me in Missouri at a gathering with hundreds of other people, while others of you first met me at someone’s house, or, heck, even in my own driveway.
Some of you reading this have never met me in person at all. No matter how you found out about me, how have you gotten to know me? By asking me questions in person, or talking to me over the phone. Or sending me emails. Those of you who’ve never met me (and some who have) share my interest in the craft of writing. You’ve read my posts on this blog, or other forums where I’ve discussed my personal ups and downs in the world of writing.
In other words, you know me by seeing me in action in some way.
You want your readers to get to know your characters the same way. Characters need to become friends with your readers. But isn’t that a problem? Your readers can’t ask your characters questions, or meet them in person. And explaining to your readers about your characters kinda spoils the whole “getting to know you” thing.
Start with your character sketch. Readers want to see as your character shows nerves during a job interview. Or worries the wicked wizard won’t be defeated, and the shopkeeper’s daughter he’s loved since they were twelve will marry someone else. Or cranks up The Fray on her morning run. Real people have likes, dislikes, faults, and things they want—and your characters should too. They have a mixture of good and bad things that make them, them, and reasons, even if they don’t know it themselves, for being that way. Characters who are too perfect (or too evil) don’t have that mixture, and won’t move readers.
What details will impact your readers most? Aim for traits with a lot of commonality. This depends on your audience, and there are exceptions to “well, everyone likes XYZ”—I know people who think chocolate’s only okay. I enjoy broccoli and carrots, and other people would rather crunch a plastic fork.
Bottom line here: get those characters moving, talking, and doing. Even thinking can be okay, at times, if you do it right. But, you can’t show everything—stories would be way too long if we spent 1,000 word scenes on every dislike, like, and piece of background information, per character in a story.
Think of showing readers a character like eating pizza—each bite, each piece, will be information about your character. And it’s a lot easier to eat a few bites of pizza, digest it, and come back—instead of eating four pieces at a time, throwing salad and pop on top of it, and coming back for dessert. And if you show your character details like little bites of pizza, your readers will know more by the end of your story, and feel closer to those characters—maybe consider them friends.
Which is really what you want.
Until next time,
One more thing…keep a look out for the next Fiction File–I’ll be discussing a great way to make characters real. Best of all, it works for both physical and emotional/mental traits.