~how 'real' are your characters?

There has been discussion recently among several of my friends from the Fresno SciFi and Fantasy Writers (FSFW) about characters – character development, character-driven vs. plot-driven stories, etc.

Characters are what inspire me to write. Each of my stories started when I woke up one morning with the image or words of a character in my head. Were they the result, or aftermath, of dreams? I don’t know, because I rarely remember my dreams.

The beings I’ve written about each began as a blurry presence that solidified as I turned my attention to them. And once I opened the door in my mind to their existence, they came through, bringing their personalities, fears, needs, and quirks with them. Physical appearances came later, generally not until I actually began writing their stories.

The stories they’ve shown me played as movies in my head, revealed one scene at a time. Often I got glimpses of future scenes, but I was never quite sure where they would fall until they hit the page.  The endings were a little different. Once the story was rolling – once the character felt confident that I was telling it the way they wanted – only then they would show me the ending.

Watcher, my first story, was interesting to write. As Sunny showed me her life and I began to get a sense of her loneliness, she guided me to one of the most important scenes in her story – the first time she saw Nicolas. It wasn’t until he stepped into the story that I knew the ending.  And that was also when I realized there would be a sequel as well.

The sequel, Runner, is a work-in-progress and is only half-complete. The ending for it is fuzzy – I know the general direction the story is heading, but these two characters have a habit of throwing surprises at me as I write.  The beginning of Runner is proof – I had no warning that Sandy was about to step into the story, let alone be such a pivotal character, until she literally stepped in front of Sunny’s car.

Some of you may be rolling your eyes at how I refer to my characters – as though they are living, breathing, real beings with opinions and a say-so in the matter. But that is how I see them. To me, the only way a writer can make the reader believe a character is real, to bond with a character and care about them, is if the writer accepts them as real.

Their reality is just on another plane of existence. Whether that plane of existence is entirely in my mind, or is indeed another dimension full of cracks that its inhabitants slip through, is not something I care to dwell on. As long as my characters keep showing me their stories, I’ll keep writing them down.

And I’m betting that I’m not the first writer who halfway expects one of their characters to someday step around a corner – in this plane of existence – and say, “Hello.”

3 thoughts on “~how 'real' are your characters?

  1. You have very deep characters. The characters’ actions and dialogue have them popping off the page – it is easy to picture them in real life. There is this other talent some authors possess, which you have, where the author guides the reader to use their own prejudices and experiences to see more than what is written. In just a few lines, you once created a character who made my skin crawl.

    I never expect to see one of my characters walking around (other than my WIP, I have never written anything in this world at this time), but I do see aspects of my characters in my friends, family, and the mirror. I see pieces of my characters everywhere I look and hear them in every conversation I have. The times I have seen or heard something that isn’t in one of my characters, I have known it was new material.

  2. Thank you for the comment on my characters. It’s always good to hear that some of what I see is actually making it to the page well enough that others can see it too.

  3. A writer is not defined by the translation of the character’s voice nor is character dictating their vision. It is a symbiotic dance that both parties embrace, set to the tone and rhythm of the story, a joint composition. I applaud your ever-evolving performance and watch every step of your operatic ballet with admiration.

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