Make Your Characters Come Alive | Writer's Digest Tutorials

all right hello there everyone making characters come alive now we all know this part of the writing craft is crucial every book you read on writing fiction every class you attend talks about the importance of characters and making them dynamic and so on and so forth but I want to focus in on a specific way of making characters come alive because it's not just enough to create a character who seems life like fiction always has a purpose to it and to get us focused on that I like to start with one of my favorite sayings on writing which is Hitchcock's axiom he was once asked what makes a great story and he said a great story is life with the dull parts taken out now this is a great axiom to keep in mind for any aspect of your fiction it applies to plot it applies to dialogue it applies to description all of those things and especially of course two characters we do not want dull characters and another thing is we don't want even interesting characters to be caught up in situations that don't have any significance or are not a great moment so we're gonna talk a little bit about how you combine those two things sometimes you'll hear people talk about plot versus character you know some people talking about plot driven novels some people talking about character driven novels or they might refer to these as commercial novels versus literary novels there's a little bit of fuzziness in these terms but you kind of know what side of the spectrum a novel fits on for example a james patterson novel is going to be way over there on that plot side a lot of stuff happening on the outside a lot of action and so forth that's really sort of what plot driven means when people use it that there's external things happening to the character now on the other side of the spectrum you have a literary novelist character-driven novelists let's say Catcher in the Rye novels by say a dilemma and in those instances you have the interior life of the character being sort of prominent in in the story but if you can combine both of these elements and then use these skillfully as a novelist to create the kind of tone you want and you're going to be cooking on all cylinders and that's what you want to do you want to have both of these aspects interacting so that they feed off each other and strengthen each other so thinking a little more deeply about this plot without character bonding results in action without engagement and character without plot is like overstay your welcome now let me explain what I mean by that I've read big action novels where there's a lot of pyrotechnics and chases and things blowing up and high-tech Jets and so on all of those things but with characters that were rather cardboard that were sort of out of a cliched central casting and I don't really care what happens because I haven't truly bonded with the characters we're gonna talk about readers bonding with your characters so I'm not engaged in that story on the other hand character without plot now I've read novels with quirky eccentric even you know colorful characters who sort of meander through a series of events and that's not plot and I get very tired of those characters after a while I can even I can think of some novels that right now where that happened to me and I just I got I've tried to read some of those a couple of differ times but I can't get involved because there's no there's no stakes involved here that that matter to the character to me see here plot is a record of how a character how they character deals with threat or challenge and the stakes I say in my books on plotting is that a plot needs to be about death now there are three kinds of death there's physical death of course there's professional death so a lawyer with a case a cop with a case of an advertising man with a client those are all things were the profession the the case that the person has in their profession is going to matter so much that if they if they lose it's like a professional kind of debt they won't be the same they won't be as good at their job they may lose their job whatever it is and then psychological death is the other kind that's where we say you know we died inside and this applies to all kinds of writing even comedy in fact maybe especially to come it's a good illustration think about it a comedy the characters in a comedy think they're in a tragedy but it's over something trivial The Odd Couple is over how neat an apartment is going to be think about Seinfeld every Seinfeld episode is about something that these characters blow up out of all proportion well they have some scheme to make money or George has a scheme to keep to get out of work or Jerry wants to get the the soup from The Soup Nazi and he's willing to actually sacrifice a girlfriend in order to have that soup these things are blown up so that the stakes are that high almost like psychological death so think about those things as we talk about character and then to those who say that I love carrot I love character driven but I love to read about characters that's fine but you have to go a little further than that when you write because true character is revealed only in crisis true character is revealed only in crisis this is important and crisis is what comes out of a plot where death is on the line you know we wear masks we can wear masks when things are easy when things are Placid Scarlett O'Hara at the beginning of Gone with the Wind she wears this mask of this flirty Coquette and she likes to do that she likes to wear that mask because it works for her and she can get men to do things for her and so on but when the crises come first of all she learns a man she wants to marry the Ashley's gonna marry someone else and then but most especially when the civil war breaks out her true colors come out because she is tested and you know we see the true scar low hair she has some admirable aspects and some not so admirable aspects but they are revealed you see because of the crisis and that's the point so true characters true character is revealed only in crisis so that's why you want to think about plot and character going together all right let's talk about let's talk about lead characters now your lead characters your protagonist

2 thoughts on “Make Your Characters Come Alive | Writer's Digest Tutorials

  1. Without lifelike characters not even sci-fi and fantasy are pleasure to read, never mind that it's all fiction 😉 Thanks!

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