The question every author eventually hears
How many times have you as an author been asked, “Are the characters in _______ really real?” IMO, the question is high praise for your ability to bring imaginary people to life!
Or are they imaginary? The English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “I am a part of all that I have met.” It’s true: the experiences we pass through in life and the people we meet along the way become an integral part of our own selves. So is it surprising we find ourselves bringing them to life again in the pages of our fiction?
Now, in many cases, admitting to basing a story on a personal experience isn’t something we want to share with the general public. Also, perhaps if we’ve portrayed a character as a villain or even just simply less than ‘a good guy/gal’, we don’t want to admit he/she actually walks around ‘in the flesh’. I’ve even read of authors being sued by someone who thinks his real character has been slandered by a fictional character! Why do you think most books begin with the disclaimer that the characters/settings/situations are fictional and are in no way intended to resemble anyone ‘living or dead’?
But despite our protests, the people we’ve met do walk around in the skins of our fictional characters, at least to some degree. So we have to take particular care to make sure that person doesn’t recognize himself/herself! However, for several reasons we do want our readers to see themselves in our characters and the life situations they face:
- We want to engage our readers and draw them into the plot. I’ve thought/felt that. I would/wouldn’t do that in the same situation.
- We want them to arrive at the last page feel as if they’ve been there-done that.
- We want them to incorporate the positive traits of the characters and reject the negative ones. How many people, for example, enjoyed the antics and adventures of Scarlet O’Hara but wouldn’t choose to be her?
Whether you present your characters as heroes or villains, victims or conquerors, winners or losers, it falls to you, the author, to make them real people with whom your readers can identify, even if it's just for a moment.
Just make sure a real person doesn’t recognize himself!
So how do we create our characters?
Here are five books which caught my eye on Amazon when I searched under “character development in writing”. Now, I haven’t read these books (yet), but they looked interesting. I saw other books which have obviously sold fairly well (according to their ratings), but no one has left a review! (Make an author’s day--leave an honest review!)
Creating Characters: A Sure-Fire Way of Making Real People Out of Nothing at All by Jennifer Dahl (4+ stars)
I’d be interesting in hearing from anyone who has other character development books to recommend.
Wednesday: Sources for Putting Faces on Characters