It doesn’t matter if you write novels, short stories or children literature, bringing your characters to life is always difficult. You have to give them a definite personality, but not too much of it, or you’ll end up with a single-character manuscript. They have to be realistic, because your readers will want to recognize them and, maybe, to identify themselves with them.
Writers are always trying to avoid those one-dimensional characters who are defined by a few traits, and never change or do anything interesting. Do you remember Miss Annie, Ignatius J. Reilly’s neighbour? In A Confederacy of Dunces, she just sits behind her shutters, complaining about the noise that comes from the Reilly’s. That’s a flat, one-dimensioned character in all its splendour.
On the other hand, think about Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights : a complex, multi-layered character capable of the deepest love and the deepest hatred, a wounded orphan who wants to be accepted, and a cold man who marries for money and properties…Unsavoury as he might be, he’s a memorable character. Those are the characters we want to create: unforgettable in the way they attract or repel readers.
Although is not easy, there are several techniques that may help you to create the multidimensional characters you want. Pretending you’re that character is one of my favourites: it’s creative, fun, and channels your inner entertainer.
Just think about a few defining personality traits, the most important ones, and put yourself in the shoes of a bank clerk forced to become a hero, of a plain teenager ignored by her classmates, or of the apparently loving nurse who’s a death angel. Imagine how they feel, what they think, where they prefer to eat, who they love or hate, how they speak….Pretend, and you’ll bring your character to life.
Now, would you like trying some acting and see what comes of it? Have a look at Edward Hopper’s Night Windows (which is one of my favourite paintings of all times) and pretend you’re the woman. Or pretend you’re the one who’s watching her. Just immerse yourself in the life and personality of your character.
Share with me your findings, if you want. I’d love to see where pretending’s taken you.