We spend hours upon hours writing about them – what they say and do and feel. But do we really know our characters? How much do we truly understand them? Sure, we know what they look like and we know how they react to the situations we put them in. Or do we? Have we done them justice? I’ve taken to an odd method of really getting to know my characters and I’m not too sure that men in white coats aren’t coming for me.
I’ll explain. I’ve taken to asking myself what my characters would do if they were in my shoes for a day or for a particular event. Now, while the story may never have room for what a character thinks of meatloaf, or if they prefer to be coddled or waited on hand and foot if they were sick, it helps me get to know them better. Perhaps I discover that my character detests meatloaf, but being polite, they’ll eat it anyway. That says something about them, doesn’t it? Same holds true if I think they’d get sulky and whiney if they had a bad head cold. How they act then spawns what their body language might be. Do they stiffen and force a smile as they eat the meatloaf? Do they pretend to straighten their napkin or cross their legs as they feed most of the meatloaf to my dogs waiting for hand-outs under the table? Does my character slump her shoulders and let her hair fall across her face as she checks her temperature for the third time? Or does she frantically search the medicine cabinet to load up on vitamin C, zinc, and Dayquil with her shoulders set, face tight with determination not to be sick?
Yes, yes. They’re fictional and I don’t have characters eating meatloaf or sick with colds in my current work. But I believe that if I want them to be three-dimensional that I owe it to them (and the reader) to go beyond one-dimensional character spreadsheets.
Likewise, if I’m experiencing something new (or something I could use in a book later), I might want to consider the experience through senses – touch, smell, hearing, sight, taste. This became obvious to me the other day when a fellow writer broke his arm. He writes a lot of great action and fight scenes, so I’m sure he’ll remember how painful his arm feels and how much of an inconvenience it is. And, unless I’m way off here, his writer brain will someday incorporate some of his experience into a character.
So, tell me. What do you do to breathe life into your characters?
What’s playing on the iPod: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
What I’m reading: For the Love of a Dog by Patricia McConnell.
Quote of the week: We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. ~Anaïs Nin
P.S. For those wondering, The Ronanator did just fine with his surgery and is back to being his usual, relentless self.