Are characters like friends?

Have you ever wondered how your characters would come across if they were real, live people? Would you want to sit down and chat with them over a latté or Coke?  Would you smile at them if your paths crossed in a store or subway?  Would you invite them to come spend a weekend at the beach or lake?

Or are some characters like that annoying know-it-all coworker who just got assigned to work on your project or a busybody neighbor who always has advice on how to deal with your kids.  Or maybe they’re like that cousin at family reunions and holidays — you know, the one who somehow makes you want to reach for another glass of wine just to get through the evening.

Whatever our characters are like, one of the biggest challenges (for me, anyway) is to make them seem real enough that readers will feel as if they know them.  Whether they actually like them or not is a different matter altogether.

But how to do this?  Some people are just naturally gifted in this regard.  They are born storytellers and seem able to make characters come alive.  But I think that all of us can certainly build well-rounded characters for our books — it just may take us a bit longer than some to do this and do it well.

In building out my characters for Wait For Me, I’ve been trying to be more observant of the people around me.  That’s probably one of the most natural things for a writer (especially a new writer) to do: create characters based on family and friends, either in whole or in part.  If the character ends up being a pretty likable person, that’s great.  But if the character is kind of obnoxious, well, that could make for some awkward moments around that holiday dinner table if others figure out which obnoxious cousin was the model for the character.

To help me think in a more structured way about characters, I’ve started filling out profile sheets for the main characters in my story.  Is the character an introvert or extravert?  What does the character do?  What are the character’s hobbies and interests?  Are any of these characteristics important for the storyline of the book?  Why and how?

Here’s a link to the worksheet (I’ve added it under the Resources tab) or you can download it here as a Word doc:  Character Personality Profile

Of course, this profile worksheet is kind of evolving as I go and continue to think about other things that make fictional characters fully dimensional and well-rounded.  I’ve already tinkered with it a bit and probably will continue to do so.  Are there other things you think could or should be added?  How do you build out your characters and make them come alive?

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2 Comments

Filed under On Writing

2 responses to “Are characters like friends?

  1. I would love to meet my characters in the flesh (all except the bad guy, that is). A working knowledge of psychology helps bring them to life, for me. I used the “Character Building Workshop” at the Writers’ Village University to find out if I was on the right track: http://www.writersvillage.com/character/index01.htm

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