I had 15 minutes to unload one of my very favorite things about writing. Characters.
I decided that, to keep myself inside the time constraints, I would boil my talk down to the very most important things about writing characters.
1. Getting to know them: Interviewing them, writing from their perspective in pre-writing
2. Add complexity: Ask deeper questions of your characters. First feeling of betrayal, loss, fear. Secret fears and dreams. What brings them pleasure and pain. What makes them feel most secure and most rejected. Most recent hope or let down. Also, beware of making the protagonist (the good guy) 100% good and the antagonist (the bad guy) 100% bad. Add depth to keep characters from being cardboard cutouts.
3. Develop empathy: Literature evokes empathy. Makes it grow in our hearts. We need to have empathy for our characters so that our readers will, too.
All in all, it is our job to suspend the disbelief of our readers so that they believe in our characters and that they forget about the paper and glue (or Kindle) and get absorbed in the story.
Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway…what’s with that phrase?), I’ve been focused on characters and what makes them real to us.
A few days ago, my daughter finished reading Little Women (the Great Illustrated version) for the third time.
“Mom, can I ask you a question?” she asked.
“Of course,” I answered.
“When you read Little Women, did you cry at the end?” Her little voice was so full of emotion.
“Yeah. A little.” I looked into her beautiful eyes. “Did you?”
“Yes.” She shook her head. “It’s just sad. You know. That part. Where the sister dies.”
I nodded in understanding.
“It seemed real to me and made my eyes wet.” She sniffled. “I really love that book.”
That, my friends, is the stuff of good writing. And, when a story can so draw in a seven year old and move her beyond anything a video game or TV show could, that is gold.
And that is done when the writer suspends the disbelief of the reader by putting bone and blood and muscle and fat and skin on characters. When those characters are endowed with motivations and fear and joy and pain.
And, in so doing, the author gives the reader a gift. A gift that makes us all more human and feel less alone.