Do You Really Know Your Characters?
By : Donna Lasko
March 23, 2010
I’ve gone to quite a few classes, conferences, read a lot of articles, and books about characterization. And they all say the same thing. Do you really know your characters? If you can answer yes to that question, then you know what your characters were like as children. You know what they like to eat and if they are in love. You know if they are straight or gay. You know what they like to wear. You know if they are Republican, Democrat or Independent. You also know how they treat their parents or even if their parents are still alive. Were they good students and do they have any brothers or sisters. Do they own or rent their home. What kind of car do they drive and do they bathe on a regular basis.
Your reader doesn’t need to know everything about your character, but you do. If you know your character, then you will know how your character will act in any situation. That is what will benefit the reader, your knowledge of the character. Your knowing your character will take him/her to that sought after three dimensional personality vs. a one dimensional personality.
Take for example James Patterson’s character Alex Cross (protagonist). I like Alex. He is a criminal psychiatrist and I like how he reacts to the situations he is put in. His best friend is an overweight, gay cop. Patterson makes him come alive and I do believe that Patterson knows how Cross would react in any situation.
Now take a look at the character Chyna Shephard (protagonist) in Dean Koontz’s Intensity. China is one dimensional. She is flat. I don’t care about her character, because it seemed to me that Mr. Koontz just made her up and started writing. He said that she struggled throughout her life...but then who doesn’t? She wasn’t believable in what she did and her reactions were not real to the situations she was in.
If you are creating a character (protagonist), then they need a dilemma that needs to be solved. If you make them perfect...no one will care about him/her. Make them real. Give them a past, give them a habit or a mannerism. Make me cheer for them. Make me want them to be better or stronger or gain insight or be happy at the end of the book. Make me connect with them.
If you are creating a character (antagonist), then they need something in their life that puts a catch in their get-along. In other words....there has to be a little bit of darkness around them. Make me care what happens to him/her also. Make me want to see them caught, or learn a lesson, or lose something they will do anything to get. Redeem them or kill them, but make me care.