One of the challenges we face as writers is that of creating three-dimensional characters. Our readers have to be able to visualize the people in our stories, to hear their voices and see their personalities shine through.
So, how do we create people that leap off the page for the reader? Think of the characters you know—friends and family members who stand out because of their looks, style of speech, mannerisms, dress, or other distinctive personality characteristics. In one of my as yet unpublished works, I have a female character who was the wild child among a group of five girlfriends. Now, as an adult, she writes for a New York-based soap opera and loves to share stories of her exploits with young hunks. I drew her personality—extroverted, bigger-than-life, risk-taking—from a high school friend of mine. When I wrote Polly, I visualized Joan (not my friend’s real name). I remembered how Joan entered a room like she owned the place, announced her arrival, and then held court.
In my first book, And The Truth Will Set You Free, I wrote the character of Sam, a mild-mannered, emotionally wounded middle-aged man. One of my first readers commented that she liked the story and could identify with my heroine, Kate, but that she fell in love with my hero, Sam. When I asked what it was about Sam, she said, “He’s so real, the kind of guy you’d want to meet at that stage of life. I could imagine having dinner with him.”
If you’ve been to Disneyworld, you may have visited the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience show. It’s an experience of sights, sounds, and sensations. 3-D glasses bring the action right into your face. That’s the challenge we face as writers—to create characters that get into our readers faces and into their minds and hearts.
I think that, if your characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional, your reader should be able to read a line and know, without a tag, who is speaking, or to visualize which character just entered the scene. Characters should have the qualities of real people—good or bad. They should be easy to love and enjoyable to hate. They should not be cardboard cut-outs that move from scene to scene without real emotions and distinct actions.
Think about it—we’ve all met at least one person in life who presents themselves in this way--one dimensional, flat. Did they draw you to want to spend more time with them, get to know them better?
Now, think about those persons you’ve met that you wished you could spend more time with, get to know better. Or that, in the very least, grabbed and held your attention. Those are the characters you want to create.
Now, go. Listen to the voices in your head--and take good notes!