Have you ever watched a film or read a book that left a lasting impact on your life?
As a writer, it’s your job to bring characters and situations to life. Creating a believable character requires you, the writer, to become a student of people.
You observe and learn all the things that makes them who they are. From beliefs and ideologies to their mannerisms and responses to situations. For me, there is no better way to create a character than to get out there and watch people. (Unless you are writing alien sci-fi…)
Everyone is an individual with their own thoughts, opinions and beliefs.
Growing up I watched films such as Ben Hur, Gandhi, Star Wars, Rocky and many more. Each had its share of good guys and bad guys. The way they spoke, dressed and acted left you in no doubt of their role within the film. Rocky, played by Sylvester Stallone, is actually a great example of a well written character.
In the first film he is a low paid hard man and collector of monies for the local mob. His dress and appearance, home environment and narrative all help create this image. He comes from a poor background with little education and not much hope for a better way of life.
There are many scenes in the film in which we really feel for Rocky and the hard life he lives – even though he is a tough character – his unfailing ambition to be the best he can be touches our hearts… and as the film ended with the climatic fight scene, I recall people standing on their chairs in the cinema shouting at the screen for him to keep going and win!
The same applies to written characters.
They have to offer something to the reader that allows them a glimpse inside their world – something they can connect with – perhaps have some sympathy or empathy with. Once the door has been opened, we invite our readers to immerse themselves in this world that we have created. Our character is often their guide – so he/she needs to be believable.
Take time to develop your characters.
Let them be ‘born’ and help them to grow into the people you want to present in your writing. Be they good or bad, they have to grab your readers attention and make them want to follow them on their journey.
Look at everyone who surrounds you in your own life. What makes them all individuals?
- Appearance (hair, clothing, shoes)
- The way they stand
- Their opinions
- Do they use eye contact?
- Their attitude to you and others
- Twitches, squints or involuntary body movements
- Accent & delivery of voice
- Their own journey – past history / hopes and dreams
- Does his/her face tell a story?
Get into your character’s head, wear their shoes and think how they think.
The more you understand them, the easier it will be for you to write them in a way that connects with your readers…