It always makes me chuckle when my friend wears his t-shirt that reads, “Careful, you might end up in my next novel”. It’s funny but true: real life is the backbone of our fictional stories and the characters we put in them. There is a wealth of material in our lives to pull from to create interesting stories filled with deep, rich characters.
Recently, I was struggling to develop such a character in a story I was writing. I knew who I wanted this person to be overall, but I also knew I wanted her to be quirky and standout in some way. And while I wanted to sit at the computer and hash her out, I had a social obligation. Off I went. As I quietly blended in, I sipped my wine and waited for an acceptable time to leave. But, with my mind drifting back to my character conundrum, I didn’t notice the one person I always try to avoid. She and her irritating personality came at me like a heat seeking missile. While I chastised myself for not leaving sooner, something happened during the inquisition. I became more aware of how she kept flipping her hair, how her eyes were a slightly different shade of blue and how when I answered her question with a question, she became nervous, knocked off her game. And, by the time I made it to my car, I knew exactly how I would write the character I was struggling with earlier.
As a writer I inherently understand that for the reader there is no greater joy than to connect with an ensemble cast of characters in a story. That no matter how interesting the storyline if my characters are flat, I won’t capture and keep the reader. Remember, readers are multifaceted, they are more than just a mom, or a doctor or a teacher, for example. They have challenges, talents, quirks, idiosyncrasies, and so on. The characters you create in your stories should be more than just one thing as well. So, what is the best way to begin crafting these deep and interesting characters?
As we’ve stated in previous blogs, before you start creating characters in your story, know your target readers. Build characters that both support the story and that your readers can connect with. Second, building characters is a lot like building a house. You need a strong foundation and structure around who that individual is. Then, add the different layers that will make them unique–from their physical traits, to habits, to their fears, and emotions for example.
Like I did in at my social gathering, many times you can be inspired by the people around you. Think about your neighbor who is wound way too tight, and how in the fall when a single leaf drops on his lawn, he runs out to pick it up. Think about the cashier who randomly picks up items off the belt, holds them up and asks you how you plan on using your carton of ricotta cheese while the other shoppers stare at you. Think I’m exaggerating? These are real people in my life and yes, one day they will make it to one of my novels.