Friday, January 18, 2008

Birthing Realistic Characters

People are complex. They are motivated by needs and past experiences to reach certain goals, and their goals and motivation arouse complex emotions. Real people are three-dimensional and so should the characters in your novels. Without believable and compelling characters, the best plot can fall on its face.

Along with being complex, people grow and change. The experiences of today and yesterday affect who they are tomorrow so as you write fiction, your characters need to be affected by what happens to them in the story. The change can be positive or negative – and should be, since we also changes in those ways as life impinges on us.

People have idiosyncrasies as well. They have quirks and habits, psychological problems and needs that cause them to behave in unique ways. The characters in your novels must do the same. They have fears—fear of heights, of close quarters, fear of snakes or spiders, fear of speaking in public, fear of dogs, fear of darkness, and other fears too numerous to mention. These fears cause people to behave in irrational ways when they find themselves in the situation that antagonizes their fear.

Not everyone is beautiful or handsome, and even the beautiful have their flaws. A beautiful woman’s gorgeous dress doesn’t hang right. She breaks a finger nail. Some people are too thin, others too fat. Some men are bald and some woman have bad hair days. While authors, especially in romance, tend to write about beautiful people, to make them realistic, you will want to give them some physical flaws or, at least, the belief that they are not as attractive as others seem to think they are. Real people think this way.

No matter what you do with your characters, you must love them for who they are, both the antagonist and the protagonist, the good guy and the enemy, because to make them interesting you have to enjoy creating them. Readers can tell if your heart isn’t in your creation of that character. By giving these people passion for good or evil, by giving them weaknesses with their strength, and by making them vulnerable (which is a key to good characterization), your readers will find your characters compelling and worth knowing more about them.

It’s difficult to create characters without a plot or theme, and so many non-authors ask which comes first—characters, plot or theme. Any of these might trigger a story idea, but before you can truly develop a character, you will need to have a feel for the story in which you will set the character. The plot helps to define the type of tension, emotion, and personality your character will need to make the story compelling and it opens the doors to your imagination.

With these thoughts in mind, I’ll continue this topic in my next entry dealing with character’s appearance and provide tips on methods I use to come up with my characters’s looks and personality.

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