As you probably are aware by now, story is what drives a reader to the end of a book, but characters are what readers fall in love with. The Greeks referred to this tension with the terms Thanos and Eros. Thanos, which refers to death, is the drive of the plot that forces a reader to keep going until the end of the book. Eros, love, is a relationship that the reader develops with the character; something that keeps readers in the book and not wanting it to ever end.
So, how can you make your characters—flaws and all—people that your readers can’t forget?
As Mark Twain said, “Don’t tell us that the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” To paraphrase, readers get to know characters through their actions—not through their thoughts or words. Here is an exercise that you can work on while you think about how to make your characters the best they can be:
Take a character you’ve been working on. Put him or her in an entirely unfamiliar situation (a priest at a Grateful Dead concert; an Olympic swimmer in a dessert). Write a scene of what that character DOES in that situation—using words only if you absolutely must. How does this character’s action reveal his or her personality?
In this situation, you might find that it is your character’s flaws rather than your character’s strengths that most grab your readers. Forcing someone out of his or her element bypasses the stock, stereotypical responses that you might be tempted to use when writing that character in a familiar situation.
Show your characters some love and stretch the heck out of them! Then, you will figure out who they really are.
Learn more in the online workshop Character Development: Creating Memorable Characters:
When you take this online writing course, you will learn how to create believable fiction characters and construct scenes with emotional depth and range. Learn more and register.