How To Make Fictional Characters Real
When it comes to writing fiction, the more you know about your characters, the better your story line becomes. Because what is a story line? It’s your chance to mess with your character’s life.
So the more you know about them, the more you can do that. If I know my character fears being alone, that’s something I’m going to make use of.
But let’s backpedal here for a moment. How do you get that far, how do you create a fictional character and all the things that go with that character?
How To Make Fictional Characters Real – Two Methods You Can use.
The Easy Method – Start Off With A Well Known Character
Let’s say that we took the well known ‘Jean Luc Picard’ out of Star Trek as he is and used him in a Western Romance. If you know the character well and his characteristics, you’ll probably know exactly what he’d say, what he’d do, and how he’d act trying to woo his beau.
Or what about Jamie Lanister from Game of Thrones? Again, knowing the character well from the TV series, you’d know exactly how he’d speak, his confidence level around the opposite sex, and his weak points.
If you’re new to creating fictional characters, this can be a great way to get the ball rolling. Not only are you not working with a blank canvas, but you’re already up to speed with how that character moves, talks, and who he is, before you start.
The Harder Method – Working With A Blank Canvas
Although I’ve written ‘harder,’ this to me is a fun way of creating characters. Not only will you create someone totally new, but they’ll be unique. Why? Because there’s going to be some part of you in that character.
Like or not when it comes to character creation, the characters you come up with, are probably versions of you in some way. You’ve got the…
- Confident woman that’s not afraid to speak up in a crowd – You’d like to be like that but you’ve no confidence in public.
- The man who knows exactly what to say to any woman to woo her – Because you wonder what it would be like to be like that.
- The party animal who’s the life and soul of the party – You wish you were, but you think you’re boring and have nothing worth sharing.
- The killer who’s on a path of revenge – Because deep down you wonder what it would be like to take a life.
Because of those things, there’s probably a part of that would relish to toss off the limitations you have and to live a new life on paper. One of the ways to start working with that blank canvas is through the interview method.
How To Interview Your Fictional Character
Imagine for a moment that you’ve set up an audition for your new book. You’re sitting behind a desk in a large office, that’s right by a busy sidewalk. Looking out the window you watch the people strolling by and wonder if anyone is paying any attention to the sign you’ve left outside.
‘Wanted – Female, between the ages of 30 – 40 for a new book. Must have some police experience and the ability to handle herself. – Please apply within.’
As you’re tapping the desk amusing yourself, the door opens and in walks an interviewee.
*Now if you need to (after reading the bullet points below), take a moment now to close your eyes and picture that scene.
- What does she look like?
- How does she carry herself as she walks to the chair?
- Does she acknowledge you, or does she just walk straight to the chair in silence?
- What’s in her hand?
- How do you feel as she’s looking at you?
- What’s your first impression?
- Would you feel safe left alone with this person in a room?
- Would you go out for a drink with her?
I’m sure from that simple beginning you’re already coming up with things about your character from that first impression.
Now wait for your character to get comfortable and ask if they’d be willing to answer some questions about themselves. If they’re not, just call out ‘Next!’ and move onto your next interviewee. — If you find the process isn’t working, or you just can’t visualise your surroundings well, pick a location you know and try again.
Now I know at first glance, questioning someone that doesn’t even exist is something to get your head around. But the thing is, we all have these imaginary conversations on a regular basis.
- We’ve got the argument with the driver that cut us off in traffic even though he’s long left the scene.
- The continuation of the fight with your partner long after you’ve left the house.
- Even arguments with characters on TV when they’re doing something out of character.
So why should your conversation with your fictitious character be any different?
Getting To Know Your Fictional Character Better
Now that we’ve looked at two ways of finding your fictional character, the more you can find out about them the better. Like I said earlier, the more you know the more you can use this against them.
These can be used as plot points, or things that your character are going to have to overcome by the end of the book. Because we as readers love nothing more than watching a character grow, change, and become more than they were when we first met them.
Earlier we went through the interviewee questioning process, which will give you a lot about your character, but you can find out more by asking better questions.
As the man says, ‘Ask a better question and I’ll give you a better answer.’
For example, how does your character feel about animals? Are they a dog or cat person. Why?
If you find out that they’re a cat person, is there a reason for that? Did they have cats growing up? If so what was that cat called and what did it look like? Do they still think about it?
As you can probably see, this line of questioning is almost like a psychologist and patient session. Each one leading off the last and opening up another layer, and possible valuable information you can use against them.
Here’s another one, your character has a police background.
How did they end up in that vocation? Is a family thing? Are they doing it to spite a parent? Is it because they witnessed something growing up that made them want to be a police officer? Is it a power trip, a way to make up for feeling small at school when they were younger?
Like you, your character has reasons for the way they are. They have their likes, their dislikes, their habits, their rituals, their quirks, their weaknesses, etc.
A two dimensional character has a hatred of dogs.
A three dimensional character has a hatred of dogs because you witnessed one killing a kitten when she was growing up. The kitten was her best friend’s and she had to comfort her until her mother came out of the house. Ever since then she’s never wanted to be defenseless like that kitten. She’s always wanted to be able to take care of herself and protect the weak. Putting her gun in it’s holster every morning, she smiles knowing that the person that does will live to regret it.
I’m sure you can see how the second character leaps off the page.
That’s what spending time with your character can do for you. The more you build them, the more you get to know them. You know what they’re going to say and do in your book. This makes it a lot easier for your writing.
Build a good character and you’re not writing their story, you’re just tagging along for the journey.