Take a moment to stop and think of your favorite characters. Chances are that beneath the eloquent dialogue and unique quirks, there was just something about that character that you could relate to on an emotional level that rocked your socks, touched your heart strings or made you angry enough to want to dive into the book and rip them apart. You were either cheering them on, laughing along with their crazy antics, screaming in your mind to warn them of danger they couldn’t see or sending them unprintable messages regarding their diabolical existence.
Why? Why were mere words on a page able to transform you into an emotional cheering section for a fictional character that you will never know, see, or actually talk to? Why do some characters get nothing more than a turning of a page and a yawn while others stay with us for the rest of our lives?
Strongly written characters create an emotional impact. You can love them, hate them, cheer them, warn them, but you can’t ignore them. You can’t NOT care about a well-written character.
Have you ever watched the animated Disney movie “Up”? This whimsical little movie packs a lot of punch when it comes to characters you care about. At the beginning we meet Mr. Fredrickson and we also meet his future wife. There’s a lovely montage of their life together, going through all the trials and tribulations that many married couples go through. They meet, fall in love, get married, find out they’re going to have a baby and then lose it, and all through the montage Mrs. Fredrickson’s dream is to visit Paradise Falls in South America.
But life gets in the way and they never quite get there and it’s something that weighs heavy on the mind of Mr. Fredrickson after his wife dies.
The montage is one that really tugs at the heart strings. Why? Because on some level we all can relate to what the characters are going through. We may never have been married, or lost a baby or a loved one, but we can sympathize and imagine what it must be like to suffer such a loss. By the same token, we may also know what it’s like to have the kind of love Mr. and Mrs. Fredrickson had.
They’re relatable. The movie itself is total fantasy, but the human emotion and experiences are very real. In a very short time the characters come alive and we see them as human, and we RELATE to them through shared and believable experiences.
The same thing happens in the opening scene of the latest Star Trek movie. The ship is facing danger, Kirk’s father is forced to save the crew by evacuating the ship and remaining on board to make sure it stays on course, all the while his wife is giving birth to his son in an escape pod.
The scenario may be fantastic, but the human choices being made are very real. A young couple forced apart at a crucial moment with no other option other than to face the fact one of them is going to die and the other will have to go on without them. We care. Immediately.
Orchestrating a Symphony
So how do you make sure that your character is going to tug at at just the right aimed heart string?
By following a few carefully executed tips.
1. Be Your character’s Shrink. You need to know what motivates them. Everyone has a few key motivators that govern their every day thoughts and actions. These motivations usually stem from some internal dialog that may or may not be part of the main story line, but you as their writer need to know all about it. You know what I’m talking about because we all have it. It’s that little voice inside our head that chatters on like a worn out record, incessantly playing in the background. You need to know what’s playing in each of your character’s heads.
2. Find their Vulnerability. It’s one thing to make your character a hero or a villain. Everybody loves a good hero or a really bad baddie. But readers don’t relate to Heroes. They relate to characters that remind them of pieces of themselves, or parts of themselves that they wish they had. To do this, your character must have an underbelly, a soft, touchable, vulnerable authentic side that makes the reader want to reach out and touch that character and take them home.
3. Help them transform. The key to a really great character that we all love to love or hate is the ability to watch them transform before our very eyes in to something more than they were before the story began. We want to watch the hero grow, we want to watch the baddie sink into the depths of despair and gloom… we want to cheer them on as they leap over insurmountable obstacles. In order for this to happen, they need to have emotional characteristics built in from the beginning that are going to kick in when the time comes…what are they? They may not know..but you the writer sure better.
4. Make them relatable. There are some universal experiences that we can all tap into emotionally. As our examples pointed out, we don’t have to experience the death of a child or the loss of a cherished spouse, or find the love of our lives to imagine what those emotions might feel like. We want to experience life through the eyes of your characters. SHOW- don’t tell- us how your characters are dealing with the experiences they are going through. Help us to experience the story through their eyes.
How Did You Do?
Last Friday we discussed a few of the core elements of a basic character concept. Did you try your hand at creating one? With today’s discussion in mind, does your character have enough real vulnerabilities for readers to care as much as you want them to? How do you see your character transforming as the story goes on? Tell us! We’d like to know!
It’s your turn now to show us your characters in the comment section. You can post your entire character sheet, or you can give us a summery of your character, OR you can write a short story with your character in it! Use your imagination! Be Bold! The door is wide open and the floor is all yours. This week is all about your turn to share what you know and what you are learning! If you think you have too much to put in the comments, let us know that too and we can post your character comments as a post next week. As we said…Starting tomorrow on Fiction Friday until next Friday- it’s your turn!
Next Friday we’ll be moving on to setting and give you some insight on an aspect that not many people consider when creating the world their characters live in.
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