So how do our favorite characters make us better writers?
Well, consider them as old friends we care a great deal about. We wouldn’t want to let a friend down by doing something that would upset them or embarrass them in any way. But that’s exactly what would happen to our characters if we fail to write the best we possibly can when they are center stage in our story. If we write a piece of dialogue or a scene description that’s clunky or artificial we are making the character clunky and artificial. We shouldn’t treat our close friends this way.
Some of you may say that you have a few characters that are so bad you wouldn’t want them for friends. Well, I have to say, I have some friends who aren’t really good people. I think many of us do. The bad or evil characters must be as strong and rounded as our good ones. So have a good conversation with your bad guys, get to know them. Imagine having a beer with them, get them to open up to you and reveal their deepest and darkest secrets. You will, more often than not, find there is some deep, dark secret hidden away in their past that made them into the horrible person they are. You have to be as close to your bad guys as you are to your good guys, otherwise your story will fall flat. Take a walk on the wild side with them, listen to them tell you why they are what they are. Every really horrible character will have at least a couple of not-so-horrible traits that you can empathize with. Use those to establish a rapport so you can get to know where they came from and where they want to go.
If we take these attitudes into our writing place, then practice it every time we write about our favorite and not so favorite characters, they will shine. They will make us proud and they will make us better writers.
I will be exploring this in the coming months by writing a series of blogs that will explain the techniques and tips that can be used to develop good, solid, well rounded characters. Character development is a complex skill but it one that can be improved with practice. There are some tricks of the writing trade that involve the use of word craft and various tools we can use to build our characters into everything we want them to be; but the best tool is your brain. Your memories hold everything you need to grow your character into a new best friend that can talk to you and guide you towards the story you are trying to write. All your life experiences are a deep well of emotions, memories of successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, rewards for making a right decision and the cost of making a wrong one. Draw from this deep well and pour buckets of traits on your important characters. The use of this vast wealth of personal life experiences can give you the inspiration to fill your character with honest, believable emotions. These beliefs, fears, habits, quirks, and every other unique characteristic that cause humans to be who they are will make your character step out of the page and come to life in the minds of your readers.