How well do you know the characters in the book you’re currently reading?
It’s a question we rarely ask ourselves, but as writers, we must get to know our characters inside out if we want to attain the dizzy heights of fictional bliss.
Building a cast of fictional people in the readers’ minds can be fun and exhilarating but it takes work and dedication. A character should appear to be a real person, all be it existing purely in a fictional or imaginary sense. They need to have well-rounded physical appearances, quirky mannerisms to make them unique, faults and talents, accents, and appropriate names.
I find it helpful to create a personal history for each character. This may or may not feature in the story, but it adds to their personality none the less, and helps me visualise them as real people when spinning the tale. Just because the writer knows the tiny details about a character doesn’t necessarily mean all those minute points will end up in the novel.
It is an interesting question, whether or not to paint the picture of a character fully. Do you, for instance, prefer to have a fully described individual down to hair and eye colour, height and additional details about their personality, the way they walk, their favourite colour, the way they react to news etc. Maybe you prefer a less precise image, their movements likened to the slow crawl of the earth worm or their features chiselled into focus as they strain at the keyhole…. Before any writer can effectively draw a character in the readers mind, they need to understand their roles in the story, and consequently, the length to which that character should stand out from the cast.
So, I ask you, whether you are a reader or a writer, the next time you read a book have a little think about what you know of the main characters, and maybe one or two of the extras. It could be fun, write down what you know about each character, then look back carefully and work out how much of this was actually given to you in the text, and how much you’ve plucked from your own imagination…. If a large portion is from your imagination then the writer has crafted the character to perfection – they are as you imagine them, fully formed in your own mind. Job done!