Characters – Who Are They Really? Melissa Pearl

Author Melissa PearlI am in the throes of planning my next novel and having so much fun with it. I love the planning stage. Who am I kidding? I love every stage!! But there is something very cool about starting with a blank slate and filling in all the spaces.

I have been working on character profiling this week and as I delve deeper into who these characters really are, my story is getting shaped and formed into something much stronger than my original idea. Scenes are being added and changed as I discover what these characters are like beneath the surface.

Robert McKee, author of STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting says the best characters are the ones who are contradictory in nature. I agree. It is so much more interesting writing about a person who comes across as a golden boy, but when push comes to shove, turns out to be a total weakling… or a woman who is all prickles and snark, but in reality is just a scared little kid, afraid to face the failings of her past.

When you think about it, a lot of people are contradictory in nature and they probably don’t even know it. We all have regrets and secrets we don’t want shouted from the rooftops. At a subconscious level there are certain beliefs and attitudes that dictate how we react to life’s curve balls.

That’s what we’re throwing at our characters when we write. We are trying to put them in the most stressful, conflicting situations possible so that their true selves will be revealed.

Therefore, it is vital that we understand our characters at the heart. The more we get to know them, the more scope we have in our writing. We should know them better than we know ourselves. We should have history for them that the reader will never find out. Why? Because that history, that upbringing, that one past experience may affect how they react to a present story situation… even if it’s presented in the smallest of ways like closed off body language or a slight paranoia to something the other characters would consider normal.

Of course, some past will be revealed as the story progresses, but we don’t have to share it all. I believe my story will be much richer by taking the time to know my character inside out before even writing my first scene.

Do you know your characters well enough?

Do you think it’s important to be able to think like they do when you’re writing?

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Melissa Pearl is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the TIME SPIRIT TRILOGY. For more information, please see the IU Bio Page and her blog: http://melissapearl.blogspot.co.nz/[subscribe2]

16 thoughts on “Characters – Who Are They Really? Melissa Pearl

  1. Good stuff Melissa. :-)

    I think for me, part of the reason I write is actually to "get to know" my own characters better, that's still the funnest part of the process for me. As far as "thinking like they do," while writing, I don't know if I'd go quite that far (or want to with some of them), but I feel like I have to at least understand why they think like they do. Could be just a difference of semantics, or a slight variation of style, but either way it is interesting to think about. :-)

    • Thanks for your comments. I agree – I think understanding your characters is really important… I guess we don't all think the same, I just think it's important that your character's reactions are consistent with the type of person they are :)

  2. I agree. That's why my stories are very character centred. I love trying to figure out why people act and think as they do. At first I thought I was weird when I said my characters show me who they are but I have learned this is quite common. Makes me wonder how much we learn about ourselves by taking our characters through their crises and watching how they react.

    • That's so true. I'm sure I leave a piece of myself in every story I write. I love character driven stories the most. I love to work out how people tick :)

  3. As a reader, I lose interest if I can't get a sense of the characters early. You can sense when a good writer knows every bit of the iceberg below the surface, while choosing to show the visible 10%.

    Thanks for the post, Melissa.

  4. As you say, character profiling is a process of discovery. The first time I thought of it that way, it seemed so strange that the characters somehow existed independent of me, and that I was just finding out things about them, rather than making it up. But it was at that point that they became more alive. Then they couldn't help but have contradictions, because they were real and human.

    • Excellent observation, Krista. I find that it is a blend of discovery and creation. One little creative thought can lead to a world of discovery :)

  5. Great post! And you know when you're wrapped up with your characters when you finish writing the book; you have a "happy ending," and you're sitting there bawling your eyes out because you don't want the story to end. Good thing: Sequels!!!!!!

    Yes, knowing and living your characters makes the story that much better. That's why I'm on book 4 of something that was only supposed to be 1 book!

    • Sequels and series – I love them, both as a reader and a writer. That way I don't have to say goodbye. Whoe ever said 'parting is such sweet sorrow' is full of crap – unless you know you will meet again.

    • It is so easy to fall in love with characters. You get to know them so well and saying goodbye can be hard. I often have a continuing story for them in my head, even if it never makes it to print.

  6. Great post! When I'm reading, if I don't connect with a character within a few chapters I find it really hard to keep reading. I love internal dialogue and characters are the reason I read. For some people, it seems to be more about the adventure, but for me it's about the character transformation–what they learn, how they grow and how satisfying the ending is for the protagonist. I think you are so right about the internal conflict being much more interesting. Flawed characters, big personalities, are what make books interesting. Identifying with someone quite different from ourself in some ways, but maybe more familiar that we are willing to admit!

    • Love your comments here. I agree with them all.

      I just finished a book that wasn't as character driven as I would have liked and I fond it really hard work to finish. For me, it's all about the growth and change in a person :)

  7. Thanks, Melissa, great post! I get to know my characters as I write. Sometimes I hit points where they frustrate me, and often that has to do with my not knowing them well enough, or some secret they've been keeping. So I'll interview them.

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