While conflict is at the heart of good fiction, character lies at its soul. Stories are only as interesting as the people in them. Complex, developed, animated characters versus simple, stock, static characters are one of the defining distinctions between literary and popular fiction. In your own reading, it is character that will draw you back to a story or novel, and character that lives on in your mind, resurfacing and informing your memory of the work. A curious thing about fiction is that it often can approach certain truths that nonfiction cannot. Why are some fictional characters indelible and continue to evolve in our memory, while others are quickly forgotten?
Voice is often the start of a fictional character. You might be walking down the street when something starts in your mind, thoughts that actually don’t belong to you. When that happens, it’s time to be quiet and listen, to allow the voice to take shape and the language to develop. If the voice persists, pick up a pen and follow it.
Characters are probably composites of real and imagined people transformed through the writer’s imagination. Become your character. This gives writing a performance aspect, even though it is not publicly staged . Writing is peformance, with characters speaking and acting and doing, while events unfold.
You need to know much more about your characters than you do about the story. Getting inside his/her head is essential. Even a despicable character requires empathy and understanding. This is different from approval. The writer doesn’t make moral judgments, though issues of morality may surface naturally in the course of the story. As an example think of Humbert Humbert, Nabokov’s lecherous narrator in “Lolita: – he exudes charm and wit despite being morally reprehensible. Many characters behave in less than noble ways.
Don’t limit yourself to stereotypes. There is often a kernel of truth at the core, but it is a truth the writer has not adequately processed and therefore it becomes distorted and misunderstood or misinterpreted.
We write in the territory of our imagination. Part of the key to creating characters is being willing to learn. Your characters need room to move around; they need space to stretch their legs. Most of all, they need an attentive writer, one who is willing to take the time to observe and chronicle what is being revealed.
Write to me at the address in Books or About Me above, if I can help you with any of your writing problems.
I am always happy to hear your comments – let me know any subject you would like me to cover. If you have any difficulty subscribing to my blog, let me know or if you have difficulty finding my books. May I wish you good luck with your writing, and lots and lots of acceptances for your work.