Creating Characters That Breathe

Creating real characters is always tough. Here’s some help, borrowed, in part, from Marge Piercy and Ira Wood’s book, So You Want to Write.

 You discover real people by ENTERING THE CHARACTER

The look-in-the-mirror cliche stops your story. The real issue is: what do size and appearance mean to the character? How does she feel about herself? What’s his self-image?

How does your character move? Feel how she moves–try moving that way yourself.

What senses are most important to them? When they enter a room do they respond to sight first, or smell or social dimensions of the room?

Beyond the physical characterization devices lies deeper characterization: fears, anxieties desires, passions, attachments to things and people, friendships and animosities and real beliefs.

What does your character want?

The next-to-last position of a Tarot reading is: “What is most hoped for and/or most feared?”

 Ask that question if you have difficulty entering a character It’s often the key.

Three Kinds of Characters that Don’t Work

Over the years, I’ve found these folks populating many a beginner’s manuscript. Make sure that this ain’t happenin’ to you.

1. Character based on the writer, her/himself–one in which self-hatred is in charge. Writers try to punish, castigate and kill off a part of themselves they detest.

This kind of person is often boring and unpleasant.

The writer (and sometimes the reader) can’t tell which is which, writer or character.

2. Characters drawn directly from life. If we don’t know or can’t bring ourselves to imagine the person intimately enough. Use someone you know, but remember if you are only using a piece of them somebody you loved or hated–you don’t have a fully imagined character. Revenge is not the best motivation for writing a story: It distorts too often. 

3. A character drawn not from knowledge or observation or musing about people you have known or your own motivations or actions, but from other writers or TV or the movies.

 Excerpted from:

 So You Want to Write

 Marge Piercy and Ira Wood


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s