Sunday, May 24, 2009

Making characters come alive

Thanks for letting me have the opportunity to blog here girls!

So, how to create characters that aren't just cardboard cutouts? Well it's different for every author of course, but for me it comes down to two things. Get them right and the rest follows.

Those two things are character assets that are also flaws, and fear.

We all have them. That part of us that is an asset sometimes but also a serious flaw at other times. For me it's impulsiveness. If I decide to do something I have a burning need to do it NOW! Now, impulsiveness can be good - I get things done lickety split, I love trying new things and I'm always up for spontaneity. In my writing it comes out as plot twists that just turn up in my head and I go with them. This trait of mine has led to some great things in my life - the time I just took off and spent a year working in the Mediterranean, the day I woke up and decided wouldn't it be fun to have a motorbike? It also led me to the Old Man, but that's another story :D

But it constantly gets me into trouble too. I've never learned to think before I speak for example. My Old Man calls it my Foot In Mouth disease. I open my mouth and the words just fall out. Normally the wrong ones, or at the wrong time. It causes my friends no end of amusement when I unintentionally offend random people. And this post for example. I was going to post something quite different. I saw Crystal's post and thought 'Ah, I could type mine up and schedule it to post on the proper day. Do it NOW!' So I typed it all out and popped in the proper date for posting. Only I didn't, not quite. No, I posted the bloody thing straight on the blog ( because I didn't waste time checking did I? No, that wouldn't be impulsive enough for me!) MORTIFICATION! I've just posted right over Crystal! I've usurped her blog. Nooooooo! And somehow I couldn't get to edit / delete it. It took twenty minutes of logging in and out, swearing all the while, till I managed to delete it. Phew.

So an asset that is also a flaw. For every positive aspect of any trait, if you take it far enough ( and in fiction, the best characters never do things by halves do they?) it can become an equal and opposite flaw.

And secondly - fear. This, as far as I'm concerned, can often be the biggest thing to think about for a character and, most importantly, one that drives the plot. What is your character afraid of most? What is the worst possible thing that could happen to them? It's often linked the asset / flaw. For instance, at very formal do's I clam up - afraid of looking like a complete idiot when I say the wrong thing ( and I will). Your character might be afraid of falling in love, of failing someone they are close to, of breaking a promise.

And once you know what it is that makes them wake up sweaty and screaming in the small hours, then you have it. Conflict. And quite often a whole plot. Because then you can make that thing happen to them, or threaten it. Yes, I love to put my characters through the wringer. Bless.

That fear drives what happens in my stories. The events that would be nothing to any other character become momentous purely because of who they are and what drives them. And once that fear is there on the page, either overtly or disguised, once you know what is driving them even if it's only hinted at in your prose, then that's when they come alive on the page.

Win an ebook and jewellery! See the contest on Julia's website.
Julia Knight's first book, Ilfayne's Bane, is published with Samhain Publishing. You can find out more about her at



Anonymous said...

It's fun giving characters little quirks to make them more life-like.
Some very good points in your staement.

Minx Malone said...

I can be very impatient and impulsive myself sometimes! It makes for some pretty funny moments though, in real life and in fiction.