Creating characters isn’t just about putting a name to some random text speaking entity. As the author, you play God. You breathe life into these paper dolls. More goes into even that though, at least for me.
When I first started writing seriously-meaning other than poetry and short stories about penguins-I found my first caveat: character creation.
My first writing was my screenplay Ghost Target. I wrote the story and gave the speakers names for the rough draft. However, I found that when I had completed the story, it was really lacking in a personal feel. I read over the script a few times before I realized that what was missing wasn’t the story or how it was told, but it was that the characters weren’t real enough. So, I started over. Before I ever wrote a new word on the script, I sat with my notebook and worked on my characters.
Creating Characters That are Real People
I gave them so much more than names. The characters received identities, backstories, parents and grandparents and siblings and jobs. They grew from a simple name on a piece of paper into real-life people. They had a certain walk, a dialect or a drawl. Each character spoke with a flair that matched their personality. They had swagger, they had a style, they had fears and emotions.
If you find that you struggle, check out the Character Interview Sheet to help you get to know your creations.
After a few weeks, they became real to me. The main characters, Leo and Marcus, became my friends. I knew them better than anyone else, as it should be. I knew that everything about them wouldn’t be put into the script, but knowing them allowed me to rewrite my screenplay into something meaningful and expressive.
Knowing where the characters came from allowed me to reassess the conflicts and situations they found themselves in. I knew how they would react, how they would speak and what they would say. In the end, it was their words, not mine, that ended up on the paper. The screenplay wrote itself. It stretched out before me in a visual and emotional trail that hit every aspect of writing that you could expect.
It was almost effortless. I was able to go from a 4-year rough draft to a 3-week final version. It was almost too easy, and the end result was gold.
Your Characters Are the Story
Your characters aren’t just a part of your story, they ARE your story. Without them, there is nothing but a faint recollection of someone’s words. With them, there is an emotion-driven escapade into an unknown that a reader or viewer can follow, get involved with and root for (or against) someone they can also see as real.
Your characters should be understood, not just seen. Pucker up, bend down and breathe some life into that story that they are telling for you.