Remember opening a book as a child and experiencing that ‘whoa cool’ feeling whenever you the entire thing sprung to life before you?
We can do that with our novels—with our characters.
I’m providing the equivalent of three unique crafting scissors today to help as you work to cut out and build irresistible, can’t-stop-reading characters. (Or if you love to read, I’m hoping this will help increase your appreciation for what goes into creating such characters.)
As authors, we’re wise to understand and explore each of these three interwoven components in order to shape believable 3-D characters.
In order to make a character come off the page we must know:
Not just what makes her afraid, but what drives fear into her. Physical fears as well as emotional ones. What’s the monster from the past that keeps following her into her future? Discovering this can take the form of an archeological dig as we carefully brush away the outer layers of dirt until we get to the real deal.
It’s also important to know fear’s counterpart, which brings me to…
This goes way beyond wishing for a sunny day or wanting to get a certain birthday gift. What charges her, excites her, makes her believe in tomorrow? What form does her faith take when things go smoothly, when they take a turn for the worst? Does she share this hope or is she alone in it? Does it inspire or frustrate her—or both? Does her understanding of hope change, taking on different forms throughout the course of the novel?
And the sad counterpart to hope—despair, when does she feel that most?
This is one of my favorite explorations. It’s amazing how our perceptions can differ from how the world sees us. What is her self-concept and how did she establish it? Perceiving her self-concept in relation to how others react and respond to her is one of the best tools for designing a pop-up character. Is she self-aware or completely ignorant of her inconsistencies? Is her thoughtfulness and altruism rooted in the desire to people please? Is she desperate or secure? How does each of these answers influence her actions?
Finally, as you can guess all three of these bleed together constantly. Her hopes, fears, and self-concept play off each other in a complex network that mimics that of a DNA double-helix (remember those twisted ladders from middle school science class?). Forever going on behind the scenes. Until, after the author has done her job, the character leaps from the page and thrills the reader.
Do you think it’s essential to understand a character’s hopes, fears, and self-concept in order to craft a pop-up character? Why, or why not?