Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson

Making Characters Come Alive

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A long time ago I realized I could never have the kind of blog where I dole out writing advice. That’s because I really don’t think I have any to give. Writing is a solitary sport, and it’s a different experience for everyone who takes it up. I’ve read a lot of advice on writing, and have even tried out some of the techniques but ultimately, what works for me is what works for me. Those are the only things I might be able to pass along. Little tips and tricks from time to time, as pretentious as that might sound. Really, I’m just sitting here at my computer thinking about developing three-dimensional people who only exist in my head.

In fact, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my characters, getting to know them before and while I write them. Sometimes they’re stubborn and save secrets for the end (which means I get to go back and rewrite a lot of words), and sometimes they’re surprisingly forthcoming right from the start. Always, they surprise me and if I can learn from them, I consider it a win.

Today I told a friend that I don’t really feel comfortable writing any character until I can write something from their point of view that sounds convincingly unique. I do a lot of little character studies for myself, not for general consumption, not for inclusion in anything I’m planning on putting in a story. I just like making my characters write me little persuasive essays about themselves. (The last time I did this, it turned into the full-fledged novel that’s just about to go out to first readers.)

Another way I gauge a level of confidence in my characters is when I can write their memories. Again, these don’t necessarily end up in the story, but we’re all the sum of our experiences; they shape us and make us who we are. If I don’t have the same foundation for my characters, I can’t make them whole or realistic. Remember that critical thing that happened when you were twelve? I’ll ask them, or find out how much losing their virginity made them swagger, or even uncover their earliest memory. Once I have things like that in my mind as part of their backgrounds, I have something that gives me solid footing. This makes the characters multidimensional and (to me) a lot more realistic. Then I can move on to the basics: what do they wear, what do they eat, how much sleep do they get, what do they read, how do they have fun, what’s their family like, are there pets, where do they live, how do they live, what car do they drive, why did they pick it, what music do the listen to, what books do they read… the list goes on and on.

I don’t know if this process works for anybody else, but it’s the way I develop my characters. I want them to sing. I want readers to feel what they feel.

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Author: G.L. Jackson

Writer, reader, amateur photographer. Mostly, I just like pretending to be a different person each day of the week.

2 thoughts on “Making Characters Come Alive

  1. I love that. My characters aren’t real to me until I’ve gotten under their skin. I play out their stories in different worlds, in different ways, what ifs, premises, etc. in my head, seeing through their eyes. When who they are, the core of them, is solid to me regardless of anywhere they end up (with permissible broad variations for fantastically varied upbringings and backstories), then I’m comfortable letting them bump up against anyone in anyone world I end up commandeering their appearance in. :grins: I’m hard on my characters. I put them through the worst possible, the best possible, and then see what can’t be broken without them being someone else.

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    • You know more about your characters than most people know about their best friends.

      You know how my twitter bio says something about dreaming in character? That’s my real way of knowing I’m there, when I dream as the character I’ve been writing. It’s almost like some weird Möbius strip: what goes around comes around in a subconsciously organic way.

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