Making Your Fictional Characters Real
Giving Birth To a Character
Just as you and I are born, so must a character be born... figuratively speaking of course. The process of birthing a character is the same as giving birth to a child.
1) Conception - inspiration arouses an idea in the mind of the writer.
2) Gestation / incubation - the character grows inside the writer's mind.
3) Labour - the painful process of bringing a character into the literary world begins.
4) Birth - the character is taken out of the writer's mind and is born onto paper (or typewriter, computer, iPad, etc...).
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Generating Your Character
First of all, don't think of your fictional character as a fictional character; think of your characters as people, real, thriving people. Whether your character is an inanimate object, an animal, a fantastical creature or a human, they are real--or at least, your goal should be to make them real. Sometimes keeping a person you know in mind, can help you create your character.
Here are some things to think about when creating a character:
Choosing your character's name:
Depending on the character, there can be a lot of work that goes into naming them. Naming a character can be as important as naming a child. You have to think of the impact the name will have on your character's life. Does the character's name have a meaning that possibly represents his personality? Is the name a name that your character will hate or will pride? How do you want your character to feel about his name? Does he have a nickname? Is there a history or some significance behind his name?
Your character's name must be appropriate for your character. You may not want to name a huge bolder of a man 'Lillian' unless his name is part of the plot.
You can find good baby name books as well as online databases to aid finding the perfect character name. Some online databases include: Baby Names, Baby Names World and Baby Hold. If you love to write on the go like I do--with a trusty notebook and pen--you may want to have a hardcopy baby name database in your hands. There are several good babyname books if you look.
Remember, your character's name can say a lot about your character.
Your Character's Personal Information Form
When it comes to basic information about your characters, think about filling out a form--like a job or school application or even just a getting-to-know you form.
First Name ___________________
Date of Birth_________________________
Current address _________________________
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You may even want to expand and add Parents' Name, schools attended and emergency contact information (sounds like a child's school form, doesn't it)? Educational and occupational information can be very important for your character. Medical information may also be useful to include.
Now, bear in mind that all this information is not for your readers; it's for you. Of course you don't have to list out all the details to your readers unless you're writing a biography of your characters, which brings me to my next point.
Your Character's Biography
It doesn't hurt to write a brief yet full biography of your character:
So and so was born in this place in the year 0000. So and so enjoys doing this and that and is especially skilled in the other.
In writing a biography, you enable yourself to create more pertinent character information. You can write out your character's skills and talents and other interesting details.
More Personal Info about your Character
- One of the most important things to know about your character is her personality. Is she brash and over-reactant? Does she tend to switch between personalities? Is she moody or persistent? Does your character have a temper or is she docile and sickeningly nice to everyone all the time?
- Likes and dislikes may go along with your character's personality. Be sure to know your character's pet peeves because it can really drive a plot once you begin writing, especially if your character has a temper or has had a past bad experience related to that pet peeve (we'll take about past experiences later).
- Does your character have any vices? If not, give them one. Everyone has to have some sort of vice, right? A vice can be as simple as chronic nail-biting and as exaggerated as a terrible 'murder habit' (if you're writing a mystery or horror). Hey, maybe your character is struggling with multiple personalities and one is a serial killer. You never know.
- Another important detail about your character is their beliefs, which can go along with their personality. Is your character a religious person or an atheist? How hopeful and optimistic is your character? Is your character a blatant liar and a pessimist? Does your character have any weird superstitions or any phobias?
- Along with personality, beliefs, pet peeves and vices, it's important that you know your character's strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps you can take me literally as to say your character's physical strength and weakness, but I'm talking about their emotional strength. You should know how much hardship your character can withstand and exactly what can cause your character to break.
A Day in the Life Of Your Characters
It's not a bad idea to make a day, week and month schedule for your character. This would give insight of exactly how busy or how lazy your character is. You can find out how much time your character has on her hands for family (if she has family) or for leisure. Does your character have too much leisurely time or is he a workaholic?
I believe that making a schedule is essential to making your character realistic. You need to at least have an idea of the hours in which your character works or goes to school, when she sleeps, what time she wakes up, etc...
What's Your Character Look Like
Your character's physique may or may not be the most important aspect of your character. Obviously you will see your character in your head so it shouldn't be hard describing what they look like on paper. It's as simple as writing your character's body type, his hair and eye colour, skin complexion, stature, height, etc...
Your character's physical appearance can drive the plot. Take for example that your character is an overweight, middle aged man and as a result of his laziness, sloppy habits and shoddy appearance, he is lonely and depressed. See? Right there, a simple description of 'overweight' has led to personality traits and even emotions. On the other hand, your character can be a beautiful, curvy seductress... again, I've turned a physical appearance into a personality. It's easy really.
Your Character's Emotions
If anyone asks, for the record, yes I get emotionally involved with my characters. I feel everything my characters feel at times, even to the point of wanting to cry if my characters are having a tough time. Your character's emotions are extremely important.
Emotions stem form your character's appearance, likes an dislikes, personality and history.
Even if your story takes place in your character's adult life, for the sake of your knowing your characters well, you may need to write a back story just for your keepsake. I say this because knowing your character's past history helps you to know your character at a whole other level.
Important questions to ask yourself when it comes to a back story:
- Was your character's birth very eventful or a 'normal' /' common' birth? Did something go wrong or was everything fine?
- How are your character's parents? Was his mother or father a single parent? Who was he raised by? Did he ever know his parents or was he raised by someone else?
- Did something traumatic occur in your character's childhood? Does he remember this traumatic incident? (Does the incident affect him later on in life?)
Sometimes a back story can be slipped into your main story even if it's in the form of a dream or flashback but that's completely up to the writer. Still, it's a good idea to write one whether or not you plan to put it into your main piece.
Set Up An Interview
As a writer, you probably have a great and even over-active imagination so an interview shouldn't be a problem. You can write out several questions to ask your character including several 'what would you do if...?' questions.
As writers, we need to sometimes become actors. In your interview, assume your character's position; pretend to be your character. Make sure you are away from distractions and go into a room or somewhere quiet by yourself. Take your interview questions and dive wholeheartedly into your character's mind.
You can even go as far as changing your voice to match your character's tone of voice or way of speaking as you answer the interview questions. You can even take up your character's manerisms, their way of using or not using their hands for gestures as well as their facial expressions. Of course you can't really change your appearance but that won't be necessary for the imaginative interview anyway.
Sure, you may feel crazy but it's worth it because after the interview, either you'll know your character as though you are your character or you would realize that you don't know enough about your characters.
I have to admit, sometimes I definitely act out scenes from my story and as I'm reading, I may change a dialogue on my character's behalf when I realise that it's not something they would say.
Don't Forget the Most Important Part
I'm going to mention the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of making your fictional characters real. Are you listening...? Okay, here it goes.
Wait a minute; allow me to summarize all that I've said before I go on:
- Fill out your character's personal information form
- Write a biography on your character
- Give your character a unique personality
- List your characters' likes/dislikes, vices, strengths/weaknesses, beliefs, fears, etc...
- Create your characters' schedules
- Know your characters' emotions
- Create a back story
- Interview your character
I must also mention that sometimes minimal research must be done if you're writing about a character with an occupation, a health/mental problem or other such related things that you don't know a lot about. So if your character is a garbage man and you're not, try to find out as much about being a garbage man as you can. Talk to a real garbage man if you get an opportunity.
Okay, back to the most important aspect. The most important aspect in making your fictional characters real is to HAVE FUN WITH IT! Got it?