Creating Powerful Characters

by MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA

How can you create characters that jump off the page?

Characters are the backbone of your story, the element from which your story derives. Without characters, you have no story. So in order to make your story come alive, you need to make your characters come alive.

Well, how do we do that?

Here are some proven tips:

Know your character. Knowing your character is critical to making him or her come alive. What does it mean to know your character? It means to know what makes him tick, why he does what he does, what triggers certain reactions in him. When you know your character, you know how he will react in a given circumstance. You will also know when to make your character act “out of character” for the purposes of the plot.

Get inside your character’s head. This means, see everything through your character’s eyes. This technique is closely related to POV–and particularly deep POV–as we will discuss in a later article.

Another way to think of this is to imagine that you are a camera inside your character’s head and that you see only that at which your character points the camera. When you are inside your character’s head, you experience only your character’s thoughts, only your character’s feelings, only your character’s viewpoint.

Keep your reader close to your character. This means avoiding words and techniques that will distance your reader from the character. Some of these words are felt, noticed, and saw.

Some techniques that distance your reader from your character are straight narrative, also referred to as telling, and exposition, also referred to as description. The more you stay inside your character’s head, the closer your reader will feel to your character.

Show your characters’ emotions instead of simply telling the reader about them. For example, if your character is afraid, don’t write, “Jana was afraid.” Instead, write something like this: “The pounding of Jana’s heart sounded like the native drumbeats of cannibals. At the sight of the two warlords marching toward her, the blood drained from her face. She gasped for her next breath.” Showing Jana’s fear instead of simply telling us about it brings Jana to life. She becomes a real, live person, not just a flat character on the written page. She literally jumps off the page.

Use dialogue to reveal your character. A good way to reveal your character is through the eyes of another character. This revelation occurs best through dialogue. Sometimes there are things about your character that your character himself does not know. In such cases, you may use another character to reveal these unknown things.

For example, you may set up a conversation in which a close friend of the main character points out a flaw of which the main character is unaware. This technique not only provides important information for your reader, but it also moves the plot forward as your main character comes to terms with the revelation.

Use all of the five senses in creating your character. Describe the smell of the room in which your character enters. Let us experience the feel of the silk pillows on the sofa or the rough surface of the sandpaper. Let us hear the music of Vivaldi playing in the background as your character reads the email announcing that her ex-husband has returned.

As you apply the above techniques to the creation of your characters, you will find that they will take on flesh and blood. You will begin to think of them as real people because, in fictional fact, they will be. And when you see them as real, so will your readers.

TODAY’S WRITING EXERCISE:
Choose a character and put yourself in his or her head. Describe your character’s kitchen through his or her eyes. Remember: you are a camera inside your character’s head. Everything you see must be seen only through your character’s eyes. Avoid words like noticed, saw, and wondered.

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Bio: Dr. MaryAnn Diorio writes riveting, compelling fiction that deals with the deepest issues of the human heart. Her stories will entertain you, move you, and transform you. MaryAnn has been happily married to Dom for 46 years. They are blessed with two amazing adult daughters, a wonderful son-in-law, and five precious and rambunctious grandchildren. When she is not writing, MaryAnn loves to spend time praising and worshiping the Lord, reading, painting, and playing the piano, cello, and mandolin. You may reach her at drmaryann@maryanndioro.com.

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Copyright 2016 by Dr. MaryAnn Diorio, All Rights Reserved and Protected by International Copyright Law. Violators will be prosecuted.