The key to writing strong, believable characters is to really know and understand your characters as if they’re living, breathing human beings.
You want to know your character’s background, what makes them tick, what has happened to them to make them who they are today, what they dream about for the future, and more.
You need to know all this even if it’s not in your story. I keep separate journals for each of my main characters so I can write about them and write from their point of view.
One tool that has helped me delve deeper into my characters’ motivations comes from human needs psychology which has defined six basic human needs.
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins has written a great article on these needs, “Tony Robbins: 6 Basic Needs that Make us Tick.” The six needs are: Read more
It’s difficult to write about deep painful emotions, even in our characters, unless we’ve experienced them. And, even then, it’s not an easy task.
Strong emotions can be overwhelming. Sometimes we numb ourselves or run away in order to avoid our feelings. I used to do that until I realized on some level that the emotions would fester inside me until I actually did the work of processing my feelings and healing myself. The advantage of doing this when you’re a writer is that you can use what you learn about your emotions to deepen your characters. I wrote about this earlier in “Draw on personal pain to write believable characters.”
But I want to delve deeper into this subject today because I’m working on a scene in my novel where I’m trying to understand the complicated grief my antagonist has about his sister’s death and how it motivates him to do bad things.
Grief is one of the most complicated emotions because it can have shades of guilt, shame, anger, and other feelings mixed in. Read more
I started reading a new paranormal novel last month that I had high hopes for based on how quickly and easily the first few chapters hooked me. The plot was refreshing, unique, and action-filled from the beginning. Interesting, quirky characters reeled me in. But it quickly went downhill from there.
I’m the type of reader who usually doesn’t give up on a book. I always have faith that the author will pull out of the temporary bog and finish, if not strong, at least well. I have only given up on two books in my life. My new paranormal novel was the third.
What went wrong? Read more
This morning, I was working out at the gym on an elliptical machine, not thinking of anything, when suddenly an intense sadness welled up inside me. Having lost my husband over two years ago, I thought it was another layer of grief so I allowed it to rise up and release but instead of releasing, the feeling became more intense and raw. Tears welled up as I continued to work out. I couldn’t figure out what had triggered the feelings and why they were so incredibly strong. And then a thought flashed through my mind—whose feelings are these?
From years of working with and helping people, I know that sometimes I’ll intuit other’s thoughts and feelings, but I’m usually pretty good at recognizing when this happens and setting up my boundaries. For me, this means doing a specific visualization.
This morning, the thought persisted that the sadness I was feeling wasn’t mine. I looked at the man working out on the machine next to me. He didn’t look sad. He didn’t look as if he was in pain. He seemed fine. Read more
I’ve heard the phrase “show don’t tell” at least a million times in my writing career. And, mostly, that’s good advice—though there are times when “telling” is more economical and gets the job done.
But in most scenes, and especially when I want to draw my reader into deep point of view, I try to show as much as possible. I draw on the senses instead of my character’s intellect.
In other words, I want my readers to experience the event with my character instead of my character filtering the experience for them.
Below are a few “before” and “after” sentences from my current manuscript: Read more
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins tomorrow, November 1st, and is the perfect opportunity to hone your character’s deep point of view.
What is deep point of view? Author and writing teacher Rhay Christou says, “In deep point of view the character owns the page and the author becomes nonexistent.”
Deep point of view will hook your reader and keep them entranced with your character and story.
Why is NaNoWriMo perfect for diving into deep point of view? Because we’re focused more on word count and less on structure, it’s a great time to just let go and be in the voice of your character. Forget about “he said/she said” or filter words like “she thought/he felt/she saw.”
Get a feel for your characters by asking them questions and getting to know them. For a list of great questions and other tips for diving into deep point of view, read Rhay’s post here. If her ideas resonate with you, or deep point of view is something you want to work on, consider taking Rhay’s online course in November with me.
In my next post, I’ll share more tips for getting to know your characters and diving into deep point of view.
“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” –Pablo Picasso
In his Ted Talk, “Why a Good Book is a Secret Door,” children’s author Mac Barnett quotes Picasso and says he loves writing for children because they make the best audience. Children are so willing to enter other worlds.
He says good fiction will leave us with the feeling that the characters are real even though we know that they are not.
As a kid, he loved reading fantasy stories like the “Chronicles of Narnia,” and he was always looking in the real world for doorways to the fictional worlds he’d read about.
He talks about a writing technique called metafiction, which is a story about a story but he says instead of the audience breaking the fourth wall into the story, he prefers to have his books break the wall and enter reality. He wants his fiction to open up into the real world, to create a doorway into our world. Read more