How I Write: Characters, Part 2
Characters rule. I said that in my last post, I’ve taught it at conferences, I’ve spoken it in my sleep, I’ve screamed it from the top of Mt. Everest. Well, okay, I’ve never climbed Everest, but metaphorically speaking . . .
Here’s a simple truth: If you can get the reader engaged with the characters, seeing what they see, hearing what they hear, feeling what they feel, then you can throw anything at them and they’ll buy it. Hook. Line. Sinker.
Readers want to not only read a story but experience it and the way they experience it is vicariously through the characters. In fact, they want to forget it’s a story; they want to believe it’s real, that it’s really happening to real people and they get this peeping Tom’s view of the whole thing.
One of the primary ways to create realistic, jump-off-the-page characters is through emotion. Give your characters lots of emotion. Give them tough things to deal with both externally and internally. Give them flaws to battle. Let them hurt and fear and cry out in frustration.
Here’s another truth: We are emotional beings. No one goes through any given day with a blank emotional slate. We’re happy, we’re sad, we’re frustrated, scared, anxious, angry, excited. Some of us show emotions more than others but we all feel them constantly throughout the day. Show your readers the emotions your characters feel (notice I said SHOW?).
So how do you do this? It helps to talk to people, really talk to them on a deeper level than, “So how’s your day been?” Get to know them, what they’re struggling with, how they’re dealing with it all. But the most important emotional bank to draw from is your own. You’ve no doubt experienced every emotion your character is experiencing. Maybe not on the same level, maybe not because of the same inciting incidents, but the raw emotion is the same. Spend time doing some self-assessment and get in touch with that part of you that wrestles with those emotions or basks in the glory of them. Feel them all over again then draw on that for authenticity.
Ask yourself . . . What did I feel at that moment? What physical response did I have? What thoughts went through my head? What kind of mood did it put me in? Did I then take it out on others? These are all ways you’ll show your reader the characters’ emotions, their ups and downs, their struggles and triumphs.
In my next novel to be released, A Thousand Sleepless Nights (October 16), I draw heavily from my own experience with cancer and the emotional roller coaster ride it was. I also draw from my wife’s emotional experience as a caregiver.
I’ve been blogging my cancer story over at my pseudonym’s site, www.MichaelKingBooks.wordpress.com. Check it out and see what I mean by getting in touch with those emotions you’ve felt.
Do you incorporate emotions in your own writing? Where do go for that emotional inspiration?