Who Are Your Characters?

When you pick up your pen and put it to paper to write a story, what is it exactly you are undertaking? It may sound like a simple question, but the more you think about it, the more complex your answer will become. In simple terms, a story is a series of events narrated for the enjoyment of your reader. It is a fitting, if abstract answer. The real question to consider is not what a story is, but who the story is about.

As a writer, it is far too simple to believe the story we are writing is ours. After all, as the author you are creating everything, therefore the story is yours. Do not fall for this train of thought. As Admiral Ackbar said, “It’s a trap.”

When you dissect a story into its basic element, though the author is telling the story, it is not in fact their story. In fact, the story you are telling belongs to the characters. You may be asking, “How can that be? I am the one creating the character.” That may be true, but in the process of telling their story, your readers are not going to see them as imaginary people created in the mind of an author. They will be seen as real people, with the most trying time of their lives playing out in the words of the pages.

Why Are Characters So Important?

Take a moment and think about some of your favorite books. What is it about those books that make them particularly special to you? What makes them so memorable? Let me give you some examples. Chris and Saul (Brotherhood of the Rose) show the emotions of brotherhood even though they were not blood relatives and the betrayal of their segregate father Elliot; John Clark (Without Remorse) is driven by revenge to hunt down the killers of the woman he loved. Clearly, the common element in those examples is the characters.

When you write a story, you are taking a small element or events from their lives and sharing it with your reader. Typically, those events are going to me the most trying and difficult moments of their lives. You are going to tell their story. Even though as the writer, it comes from your imagination, it is their story. The characters act as the medium between you as the author and creator and your readers. Without strong characters, your well thought out and executed story will simply fall flat to your reader. It takes strong characters to make your story memorable.

What Makes A Strong Character?

As stated earlier, your story normally will not involve a character’s entire life. Typically, the story will begin at a specific point in their lives where the plot begins. The problem is, the lives of your characters do not begin when your plot does. There is an entire life they lived up to that point. They have experiences they faced, they have loved and lost, have faced trials and tribulations, all of which added to who the character is at the time your story picks up.

Strong characters begin with depth. They are more than a name and a physical description. In your mind as the writer, they have to be real. You have to know and understand their history so you know who they are now; they must have their own voice in vocabulary, tempo and sound; and last but not least, they must each be individuals. After all, how boring would a world be if everyone spoke and sounded the same?

How Do I Create Strong Characters?

That is the question. Simply put, it is not a short process nor are there shortcuts. There is the name of course, physical description, a lifetime of experiences which shapes them into who they are when the story begins. There is of course more to it, and rest assured we will get to that over the next few weeks in this blog series. It may seem an arduous task, and it is, but the more you work at it, the easier it becomes. Now that we have a basic understanding of how vital strong and complex characters are, let us explore the process. In the meantime, keep your pens, pencils and computer keys going and write your heart out.