Know thy characters!

Your characters are the life of your story. They are like the sauce on your steak, the strawberries on your Belgian waffles (You get the idea). Without them, your story is dull and doesn’t exist, so it’s important to know them inside and out. This means knowing more than just their names, looks and basic info. Essentially, you must know your characters like you know your loved ones. Your characters must also be different from each other, so that there is a diversity of character traits in your story – one can be likeable, the other unlikable. In the book, I’m currently writing I know my main characters inside and out and can even picture them clearly in my mind! I once had a dream that I was in a scene in my book and saw my characters in action. Not to get off track, but what I’m saying is if your characters aren’t real to you, they sure won’t be real to the most important person of all – your reader.

While there is so much you have to know about characters, here is a few things which you ABSOLUTELY SHOULD KNOW about the players in any story:

1. Desires and Fears – What does your character dream of achieving? What does he or she fear the most? You can use these to set the path of your characters as they progress throughout the story. Fears can also be the root of conflict in which the character must face their fear in order to resolve that conflict. Just take any classical book out there; all the main characters had desires and fears. Not all of them were present in the books, but the authors certainly knew about them and so should you.

2. Language – do your characters talk in slang or use complete sentences? Do they use a certain dialect? Your characters should have a certain way of speaking and need to be distinct from one another. In other words, one character’s way of speaking should be different from the other. This can add conflict and tension between characters, which will engage the reader. If you’re stuck, think of your favorite character from a TV show or movie; how does that character speak?

3. Relationship with Family Members – How do your characters get on with their parents or siblings? If their parents are deceased in your story, then you need to know what the relationship was like while they were living. Why do you need to know this? Because relationships with family members shape personalities and habits, just like us in real life.  Like fears, perhaps your character has an issue that he/she must resolve with a parent. Maybe they have to save a sibling from a drug addiction (or something similar), even though they do not get along well. It can make for an interesting story, don’t you think?

4. Reactions – How do your characters react at parties? How do they respond to friends? How do they respond to strangers? You should know how your character reacts in a variety of situations, whether they face those situations in your story or not. These answer those ‘Would he/she say/do that?’ questions.

5. Attitude – Is your character an optimist or pessimist? What is their philosophy on life? Are they free-spirited or do they follow the rules? You need to know these in order to know what they like/dislike as well as their reactions.

For more on what you should know about characters, visit my ‘Tools For Writers’ section. Happy writing!

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