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How to make your characters alive.


What makes your characters alive

You have to know each of your characters by heart. Like a best friend.

Make a list of each of your characters, especially your protagonist and antagonist.

What are their backgrounds; histories; likes and dislikes; dreams and motivations; trigger points; ways of thinking and living.

Their behaviour; actions; personalities, failures and victories; values and norms.

How will they react when pushed beyond their boundaries; when they are forced into places and decisions they never explored; wander or even imagine before?

Readers aren’t looking for common reactions, for what a regular man or woman would do. They want to know how a character will act and react when faced with the unexpected, unbelievable or the feared. They want to see how a character behaves when he finds himself doing something he never suspected he’d ever do. Something so repellent to him that he made a compact with himself to keep from doing that very thing that he couldn’t keep from doing.

Take a woman who hits a pedestrian in the middle of the night.

Would she call the police? Most honest or moral people would.

But what if you gave your character a reason that made it impossible for her to call the police? What if she was drunk? Maybe she fell asleep at the wheel or talking on the phone?

Or, maybe she kills that man, but it’s not an accident. Maybe she goes after the man who attacked her daughter because he got off with no jail time. Is revenge part of her goals?

Asks yourself: what will happen to your character when he/she does THIS?

What will the complications be?

Is he/she betraying their own standards and to what will it lead? Maybe guilt; friends turning against them?

Will your character forgive him/herself? Or will this traumatize them for the rest of their lives?

Will they lose faith in themselves?

Will their friends and families turn against them?

Could it put those they love in danger?

This will raise tension and stirs conflict. This is what drives your story.

Make your lead characters break their personal codes. Push them beyond what they ever wanted to do, beyond what they’re comfortable with, beyond what others will consider acceptable behaviour.

Force them to make choices that they don’t agree with but have no way out.

Twist their arms to make them do what they shouldn’t or wouldn’t under normal circumstances.

Then make those characters stronger, more vulnerable, more loving or more understanding of others because of what they’ve been forced to do.

Don’t just make them bend a bit. Change them as they face who they thought they were and discover a person of different strengths, different depths.

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