When you’re a writer, you get to play God. You have the privilege of breathing life into a character, making them into a believable human being. To a writer, their characters are no less important than their friends or family. And they know just as much about them as they know about their friends or family.
So how do authors create such strong bonds with their characters?
It very much depends on their style of writing and their personality. From what I’ve experienced in my own writing and in workshops I’ve attended, there are three main approaches I’ve identified.
These authors are lucky, if you ask me. They hear the voice of the character in their head and they write down what the character tells them. They’re the authors you hear muttering to themselves on the street. They’re led by their characters through the story. They believe that the character is stronger than they are, so they give complete control to the character. These authors write with their heart and gut; they allow their words to flow out onto the page before they structure them.
This is the partnership approach. These authors do see their characters are real beings and tap into what they’re thinking and feelings. They consult with them about what they might do in certain situations. But ultimately, they pull the character’s strings; they decide what happens to them. This is a good approach for authors who aren’t slaves to the rules, but who use the analytical side of their brain to put the brakes on, so that the story doesn’t run away on them.
These authors take an architectural approach to writing. Before they begin writing, they plan the structure, how the finished product will look. They build their characters from the ground up, with character profiles, case histories and spider diagrams showing how they link to each other. If you’re a logical type who likes systems, this approach will give you the security and concept to begin telling your story.
Thinking about how you relate to your characters will bring you closer to them, to understanding how they work, how they fit into your story and above all, who they are.
How do you relate to your characters? Feel free to share your own insights.