Sunday, February 19, 2012

On Writing Your Characters

undressyourcharacters

Remember that you’re the God of your world when you’re writing a story. That’s why when you’re writing your characters, you should be creating real people, not just cardboard cutouts to stand in an imagined world. The characters should not merely be tools that will push the plot forward, or one-dimensional caricatures to serve as avatars for your idiosyncrasies. Make them live. Make them breathe.

You must know each character inside out. You should see him naked—literally and metaphorically. Undress him. Learn all the facts about him, from his real full name to the last toy he ever had as a kid. Know all his blemishes and flaws, his most embarrassing memories, his worst fears. Discover his dreams and aspirations, his regrets and frustrations; find out what makes him flinch and what makes him smile despite himself. Feel him under your hands, run your fingers over his scars and wounds, those little histories scribbled on his skin. Learn what his weaknesses are. Prod the skeletons he’s keeping in the built-in closet of his personality. And in the end…give him the respect he deserves.

You ripped his clothes—for your own benefit—and you respect him? Yes. It may seem so technical when you do it with the eyes of a scientist studying a specimen, but it’s much better when you do it with sincere feelings. You must learn to “love” the character. You see his imperfections and accept them as a unique part of his personality. Perhaps it’s parental love (characters are your children!), or “friendly” love (characters are your friends!). What’s important here is that you view the character as someone close to you, and it shouldn’t matter if he’s a good guy or a bad guy.

Keep in mind that, like real human beings, they’re akin to icebergs too. What’s on the surface is just 10% of the whole thing. Keep the water level up, and let your readers find the 90% all by themselves. The legwork should be theirs, but all their efforts would be dependent on your writing. Let your character’s speeches, thought processes, and actions unfold more about himself. And slowly, as the story charges on, let your readers undress your character, too. :)

(cross-posted from my tumblr)

11 comments:

  1. I love this! I saw this on tumblr when you posted it. I wish I have more time to write, I love meeting new character friends that I created myself!

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  2. All my love for this post!
    (I wish I can attach GIFs here like on Tumblr! haha)

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  3. This is such incredible advice for both established and aspiring writers. I know as an actress, in all of my drama workshops, my coaches instruct us to know every physical and psychological facet of the characters we play. And, like you’ve so well described, it’s the same for writers. I think there’s a clear difference between a book whose characters are ‘cardboard cut-outs’, lacking profundity and difficult to identify with, and books whose characters become readers’ friends, confidants and lovers. Harry Potter (common, I know) is an example of a character so alive that he’s become an incremental part of the lives of so many. Wonderful post!!

    http://freepagenumbers.wordpress.com/

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    1. I totally agree with you about Harry Potter! Characters like him were so written well they just pop out of the pages as three-dimensional figures that can be friends of the readers. :) And I'm glad to hear even other artists can relate to this. I haven't really given it a thought, but yeah, I realize actors have to really *know* the characters inside out before metaphorically stepping into their shoes. Other wise, the acting would be just that--plain acting, and not bringing the role of the character to life. Thank you for lovely response!

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    2. Exactly! Stripping your characters ensures that they become three-dimensional, in both writing and drama. Just writing words or reading lines creates a one-dimensional world into which no one can truly be absorbed. It’s my pleasure to comment – honestly, this is one the most well-written posts about fiction writing!

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  4. I LOVE this! Such good advice, thank you. It makes me itch to have time again for writing fiction!

    ♥ LW

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    1. Thanks, L! I didn't know you're writing fiction, I'd like to read some of your works some time! :))

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  5. What can I say? This kind of wonderful things coming from you is no thing new. Please post more about this!

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    1. Thank you! I surely will, in the future. :)

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