How to make your characters live

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Jerry Myers_12_23Putting life into a fictional character might seem a daunting task for a writer, but if you have done your homework it is pretty simple.  In my last article I discussed Bios for characters.  This is the most important step in character building and is the key to a character’s personality.

You can look at it this way.  At birth we are a blank slate in a manner of speaking.  Our experiences, what we learn of the world around us, what we learn in school, and from our family and friends shapes who we are.  This is a simple way of looking at it but it covers most of the bases.  If you were to write what has happened to you, what you have learned, and how you felt about things, that would be your biography.

The thing that is most important to a reader is getting to know a character in a story.  A character cannot become alive in the readers mind without a personal history that the writer invents and divulges to the reader throughout the story.  However, if the writer deviates from a perceived character trait, the reader will pick up on that deviation, and wonder what is going on with the character.

Deviation can be covered, or explained by a happening that occurs to the character during the prosecution of the story plot-line.  In short, nothing happens without a reason.  This is character motivation, and is a tool to twist the sub-plots and reasons for characters to ally with other characters in the story, making them Protagonists, or Antagonists.

In actuality there are three types of characters; Protagonists, Antagonists, and Facilitators, or characters that lend help or information to ether Protagonists, or Antagonists.  Not all these characters need complete Bios; however, care should be taken to insure character integrity whenever a character appears.  Bios should cover character appearance, age, demeanor, and character position.

Giving your characters their own voice (way of speaking) goes a long way in reader identification of individual characters.  For example; even with your back turned you usually know who is speaking to you by not only tone of voice, but how they phase their speech.  Writers do this by paying attention to how people talk to each other.

Another way is to use colloquial terms and phrasing, such as (Yawl), (Yu-know), and (OMG) to list a few.  Profanity can be used (in character), but should be used as a character trait for a select few.  To make a story universally acceptable, profanity should be described in-narrative, rather than stated in-dialog.

The end product should be recognizable characters that the reader can identify with, and lives, becoming a real person in the reader’s mind.  Point of identification, or empathy with a character is the goal for a writer.

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