Friday, April 23, 2010

Creating Characters

Characters are the most important aspect of any good story--fiction and non-fiction. In non-fiction characters are real people, of course, and the stories we read regarding them are facts about their lives. It is a bold writer who makes those facts as compelling as possible.

For example, fireman Joe Burnett makes news because he has saved two children from a house fire. The topic in this case is already compelling, and Joe has performed heroically.

The ambitious non-fiction writer, however, digs deeper and discovers Joe saved the two lives three days after receiving news his job was being cut due to city finance problems. In addition, he gets Joe to talk about losing his job and learns he’s taken his circumstances in stride. He’s been through worse times.

Joe’s a recovering alcoholic who’s got four children and an ex-wife to support. He’s already lined up interviews for a half dozen jobs, and he’s determined he’ll get one of them. He never wants to let his family down again.

A valiant fiction writer, like an intrepid reporter, will seek out all the facts about her characters. Before she writes a word of her story, she’ll know her characters as well as she knows herself. Like the writer and everyone she knows, her characters will be rounded individuals with flaws and virtues. None of them will be all bad or all good.

Like Joe, they’ll have made mistakes, been visited by misfortune and have done courageous things. They’ll have loved, failed, succeeded and behaved badly.

Most importantly, the genuine characters a resolute fiction writer creates will be identifiable to the reader. Realistic characters make a story shine and entice readers to yearn for more.

Fran Shaff


mulligangirl said...

Hi Fran, I agree completely. One of the 'best practices' I took away from the Desert Dreams RWA conference I just attended was a new (new to me, anyway) way to do character profiles before writing - asking questions like "what would your character do in XYZ circumstances". It can really get you to know your characters on a whole new level!

Fran Shaff said...

Yes, ask characters questions, interview them in depth. It does help a writer to get to know her characters intimately.