Do you want to create characters who are so real that you could have lunch with them? Infuse emotion into them? Imbue them with the feelings, senses, and movements of real persons? Before we can inspire life into fictional people, we have first to familiarize ourselves with our own inner movements, and those of others!
Failure to recognize (and remember) our own emotional reactions, or those of others, can result in our fictional characters being stiff and dead. A good idea is to keep a journal, and catalog those feelings, and what caused them. You should also keep a notebook of details about interesting people you know, or have observed in public.
Write truth. Writing true in the recording of emotions means telling your readers how those feel at gut level. Another benefit to keeping a record of feelings is that it can feel good all over again when you re-read it. And, we can experience catharsis by writing out the bad experiences after the fact, with our characters in those situations instead of ourselves.
When a loved one we do not see often leaves after a visit, the feeling is more complicated than sad. It feels like our heart falls into our gut, and sends up a hollow ache as silence closes over the spot on the sofa as if they were never there. A character in our book might need to feel those feelings, and react the way we did. Perhaps your character is one who swallows their feelings, and keeps busy in order to avoid those. Or, perhaps not. Either way, if you have recorded those emotions as they occurred to you in the past, you have a ready source for making your character come alive in your writing.
We need a memory, or a friend willing to share the detailed effects of an experience before we can write about our character in a similar fashion. Characters do more than emote. They employ physical senses and intuition as well. Put your character in your shoes, and telll the truth about the tomato you bit into while you stood in the garden. Tell how the juice spurted, and just missed your eyes. Share how the sweet tartness puckered the inside of your mouth, and sent shivers throughout your body. Tell the reader it smells like summer gardens, warm from the sun, so they can recall a time they stood someplace, and drooled over their own treat.
Is your character going deaf? Don’t just tell your readers that. How much more real would she be to your readers to say she puts her hand behind her ear, and stretches it forward as if to form that organ into an old fashioned horn?
People and characters do more than taste and talk. They eat, sleep, drink, and smoke – something. They itch, and twitch, and stitch. They laugh, and cry, and move their hands, and use their faces.
Will your reader toss the book aside and fall asleep, or become so enamored with your characters that they’ll read the entire novel in one sitting? Characters have to do what real people do and it’s your job to keep them in motion.
Understanding and recording your own feelings, and those of others, and paying attention to the actions, facial expressions, and reactions of those around you, will fill your characters with life. Give them buddies and foods and jobs they love or hate, or both. Instill in them physical and intuitive senses that remind the reader of their own. Let them live, and move, and have their being so the story comes alive, and stays that way. Your readers will love you for it.
Linda Gigliotti is the author of “HOWMASTER: The Writer’s Guide to Beautiful Word Crafting” Find her book here: https://booklocker.com/books/2304.html
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