Friday, September 24, 2010

Characters We Love

My friend Elana Johnson is doing a blogging experiment, wherein a whole bunch of writing bloggers, or blogging writers, or, well, you know—we all get together and blog on one topic on a specific day. Last time I did one of these activities, it was a BLAST. So be sure to check out Elana’s blog for the master list of participants.

I’ve been a reader my whole life. Really. Well, okay, there were a few years when my kids were small when I didn’t allow myself much reading time. But it didn’t last long. And believe me when I say, I’ve more than made up for lost time with the books I’ve read since I started writing.

Because equally as much as I love to write, I LOVE to read. But why? Why do I feel so compelled to spend oodles of time living in a fictional world with people who don’t really exist except in my imagination? Because I love the characters, that’s why.

But how—and more, why—would I love people who don’t really exist? How or why would anyone? Because if the author did his or her job, the characters in their books become real for the readers. Real, live people you could almost reach out and touch. And we—the readers—feel like we know these characters inside and out. Intimately. So, it’s like our favorite characters are a long, lost friend.

I don’t have all the answers by any means, but I believe this is accomplished only when an author truly believes these characters are real. Knows them intimately, their likes and dislikes, their favorite colors, their favorite foods, their backgrounds and history, what they’re like inside and why, and especially their flaws. The things they like about themselves, and those they don’t. When an author writes a story—any story—about a character they know THAT well, the knowledge comes out on each page of the story.

Sometimes we don’t know our characters that well until after the story is drafted, and that’s okay. That’s a perfectly acceptable way to get to know your characters, and then those little details will—hopefully—come through in your revision.

For me, the characters that are real are also the most compelling. And compelling characters make good stories we all love to read. Right? Right. Okay.

Be sure to check the master list on Elana’s blog to read more about writing compelling characters.

30 comments:

Christine Fonseca said...

Yep, real, authentic, all of it!

Michelle McLean said...

definitely have to be real :) And I have to get the story drafted first as well, and then go back and layer more into my characters. Great post!

lotusgirl said...

If they are not authentic, the become cartoonish.

Quinn said...

Great post! I kind of touch on the same thing in my post. The characters have to be real. If they're real, they're compelling.

Carolyn V. said...

I think it's important to know your character. I find that sometimes I learn along the way, but I'd probably do better if I knew them better at the beginning. =)

Lola Sharp said...

Yep...quirky, flawed, unique, real.

Nice to meet you through Elana. :)

Have a delightful weekend,
Lola

WindyA said...

Wow, we're twin geniuses. I said something so similar, we must be like, destined to be crit partners or something ;)

Elana Johnson said...

Phew. So those imaginary conversations I have, and the fights I get into with FAKE PEOPLE are actually good? *note to self--and to husband*

Meika said...

Oh, they totally have to be real. If they're not real to me, what's the point, right? You can't imagine the looks I get when I'm having an argument with one of these characters. No one else can see or hear them, but they're real to ME, darn it!

Awesome post!

Hannah Kincade said...

I'm one of those that doesn't know my characters completely until I'm done with my first draft. It's funny to read the first few chapters because they're so flat and lifeless and then later on you look and sees a PERSON! Whoa! It's pretty much like magic. ;)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yes, yes, and yes! You nailed it, Nichole. Great post! :-)

Elena Solodow said...

Great post! I'm definitely one of those people who do need the draft before I really know who I'm dealing with.

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Some very common themes running through the entries - that's a good thing - it means most of us are probably on the right track!

Jen Chandler said...

Great post! I really need to feel like I know the characters and I have to care about what happens to them.

Cheers,
Jen

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

:) I think it's wonderful when you hear people talking about characters in books like they are talking about a neighbor or a friend...it means an author somewhere did an awesome job!

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

One of the things I love about reading is being able to get inside the characters' heads. Knowing their thoughts makes me feel I really know them. And yes, I agree sometimes I don't know everything about my characters until after I finish the first draft. Good post.

Rachelle said...

Definitely love the permission to talk to my characters. Sometimes I have to tell them to quit bugging me! This was so much fun to participate in, huh? :)

Angie said...

I am often hyper-critical of people who love sports. I think, really? You're that passionate and intense about some stupid game? Then I realized that I am even more passionate and intense about people who don't even exist doing stuff that never happened! It's real to me, though. You're absolutely right.

Lisa Potts said...

I talk to my characters too! Sometimes I remember not to do it out loud.

RaShelle said...

It's true. When a character feels real I have a harder time putting the book down. In fact, I normally don't until it's finished. The kids are usually fending for themselves. LOL

Melissa said...

Authentic is the most important factor. Authenticity= my favorite characters!

L.T. Elliot said...

I feel this same way about reading and about characters. When I know my characters well enough that I can cite nearly anything about them off the bat, I feel pretty comfy--but that takes a lot of discovery. Thank heavens it's such a fun ride.

N. R. Williams said...

I whole-heartedly agree.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Nicole Zoltack said...

Real, true characters are the best to read about.

Elaine AM Smith said...

I agree. If the writer doesn't make you believe the characters are real, that their situation matters, then you would put the book down and not bother.

Julie said...

I never know my characters until after I've written the first drafts, which means I re-write and revise almost every story I write. But for me, it's worth it to learn everything I need to know.

Thanks for the great post!

Pam Torres said...

Nice. I also feel that many of the characters I find when I read are long lost friends. Thanks for your post!

Angela said...

Great post.

Nichole Giles said...

I just love these blog parties! Thanks to everyone for the awesome comments. I am now back in town and planning to catch up on all your posts in the next day or two.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Great post, great blog. And you`re right - everything we say about backstory and conflict boils down to the characters being real to the author.