Putting Character in Your Characters
It would be pretty tough to tell a story without any characters in it. I’m sure it could be done, but I don’t know how exciting it would be or even if I’d want to read it. Let’s face it, the best stories are driven by great characters. Creating those characters requires thought. You can’t just throw something together and expect people to like them
What you know about your characters is as important as the function they have in the story. I mean, you don’t have to write a twenty page bio to really know them. But, having some basic information in mind beforehand really goes a long way towards bringing those characters life. Let’s explore that a bit, shall we?
Great characters are great not just because of the dialogue or the action sequences, but because of the things we know about them or learn along the way. Characters with mysterious backgrounds are great, but you have to drop a hint about that background once in a while, or the readers will lose interest. Details are what make the characters come to life.
Now, using my own writing, I create a mini-bio for each main character I write. I can tell you where they were born, their birthday, what their favorite food is, whether they went to college or not, if they were in the military and if they were ever married. I can also give you a good physical description, even if I don’t always put all of this information into the book. I like to let readers imagine their own details, on certain things. I give them the outline and let them fill in the little things.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give your readers good details. On the contrary, you need to give them enough to give the character a life of its own. However, don’t go the other direction and give a six page history on what the character has done since pre-school. For one, it will bog down the pace of your story. For another, you don’t have to reveal everything about a character all at once. Give that basic description and include important details, but leave a bit of mystery about them, too. It builds both interest and suspense.
If your character has an accent, you can incorporate that into his or her dialogue. It not only makes them stand out, it’s a great way to make them unique. It’s just one of those little details that helps bring them to life, not just give them dialogue to say. I have had characters who had accents, some who never cursed, some who cursed a lot and some who just spoke very little. In each case, what you have them say is just as important as how they say it. It helps to make the character human, not just words on a page.
Do they have a unique physical characteristic? This is a great way to set a character apart from the others, but use it sparingly. If everyone in the story has something unique about them and you describe it to make the character stand out, then none of them will really stand out. Giving someone an odd shade of eye color or a strange scar or a missing appendage is great, but I’d only have it with one character or it can become overused. Then it really accomplishes nothing and might even take away from the development of the characters, instead.
Be careful of tropes, too. Not every character you make needs to be a Green Beret / Ranger / SEAL / Ninja / Sniper / Super-Spy. Character weaknesses are just as interesting as their strengths. I tend to have a lot of characters who are police/military, but I mostly write books that are centered on that lifestyle. That’s my thing. But, not every character is a badass. Most are just average guys in their field, trying to do the best job they can in the circumstances I’ve thrown them into.
Also, I understand using some details from your own life to create your characters. Experience is what we draw on as an author. But, be careful of using too many details. Or, be careful of creating what are known as Mary Sue or Gary Stu characters. I won’t go into a lot of details about those types of characters. If you want to read more about them, Google will give you tons of information. Suffice it to say that these types of characters will give your writing the wrong reputation and is likely to drive away serious readers. That affects sales and building your following. If all you’re wanting to do is put your writing on a website and let your online community read it and post their own stories, as well, then go for it. If that’s your thing, then I say Rock On. Enjoy it. Just remember that it might not help you in the publishing world.
Whatever details you pour into your characters, be it accents or physical characteristics or whatever, just remember one thing. Be consistent. If they speak a certain way in one chapter and not in the next, the readers will notice. There’s an old saying that I heard years ago and I’ve found that it has never been more true than when dealing with your writing. “The Devil is in the details.” It is, after all, the details that form the foundation of everything you write. They form the basis that the rest of the story will stand on. If the little details are bad or not there at all, then the rest of the story won’t stand on firm ground.
Suspension of disbelief is key when it comes to fiction. Readers can suspend their disbelief on the existence of monsters, but if your character hacks into a secure server from a cellphone in the middle of nowhere with no WiFi or cell service, the readers are going to call bullshit. But, if you’ve established that the character is trained in that field and is using an encrypted data uplink, then they’re more inclined to believe it.
The details make all the difference. Not only in the story but in the creation of your characters. Take the time to craft good characters, as well as a good story and your fans will love you for it. Build the foundation on solid details and your story will have the beginning structure to build into a solid tale.
So, write those amazing stories, tell those fantastic tales, take us to strange places and into unknown dangers. Just remember that those small details in the background help to make those experiences come to life. And nothing brings more life to your stories than awesome characters.
After all, “The Devil is in the details.”
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