Your character isn't you. And she isn't neutral. She has feelings and experiences that color everyone she meets and every situation she encounters, and sharing those feelings and experiences is a big part of the reason that people want to read about her. Reading puts us into another person's skin more deeply than any other medium. That's what allows reading to build empathy.
But how do we get that deep into our characters as we write them?
We have to F.E.E.L.:
FOCUS: Everything every character in the book encounters will be interpreted through that character's eyes, and every character will see the same thing in different ways. When we look at a person or an object, we all notice different things. We smell different things. We touch things in different ways. We think and remember different things. We envision ourselves in ways different from the way the world may see us. As writers, when we create a story, we need to consider every action and each scrap of dialogue individually for every character, and we need to show the way in which that specific character would act and speak. The truth for that character, the genuineness and honesty, may come only after many drafts, but the more quickly we immerse ourselves into the deep viewpoints of each of the characters in the story, the stronger our story will become.
EXPERIENCE: Part of defining our characters, certainly our main characters, is going back into their pasts to reveal the experiences that make up the building blocks of their consciousness. This doesn't mean coming up with a list of experiences in advance, on a worksheet, and then looking for places to plug them into the story. It means finding connections between the present story and experiences in the past, places where that specific past experience, wound, or moment of growth will make that character think, reflect, or behave in a specific way. At that moment, the reader is eager for that insight and they will appreciate knowledge of the backstory. In any other place, the backstory interferes with the forward momentum, and a percentage of readers will skim or at least feel restless.
EMOTION: From experience comes emotion. Every character will react to a situation in a way that is dictated by their personality and their past, as well as by their goals and hopes and fears. We need to reveal that emotion in some way, however small, for every character in a scene in order to make a scene or event feel true.
LOVE: As authors, we need to love our characters, all of them, in order for our readers to care about that. Yes, that means we have to love our villains. We have to understand what motivates them and we have to sympathize, or at least empathize, with that motivation.
As authors, we have a whole book--or several books--to create deep knowledge of our characters. But every step, every page, has to provide clues to who the characters are and why they behave and think the way they do. Ideally, every bit of dialogue and every thought should be unique to that character, but it should also feel inevitable.
Character Begins In the First Line
When an author knows the character, that comes out with the very first sentence. It goes beyond an intriguing sentence to voice.
Here is the next installment of my Openings video series, featuring New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis and author Lori Goldstein.
What About You?
How do you FEEL characters as you write or read?
About the Author
Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse about three plantations, two wishes, and an ancient curse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.
This week's giveaway is a complete set of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. All four fabulous books.