How do I bring characters to life?

Most characters in When Colour Became Grey are based on real people. They may not be based on people I know personally, but they are based on people that exist. Some characters are built on fictional characters from tv shows or movies, or a mash-up of several people, but I don’t ever use the same visual traits of a given person and their name. I doubt anyone would be able to pinpoint who any of my characters are based on and I prefer to keep it that way.

[Don’t use a real person that exists and use their name as well (in fiction). This opens you up to possible legal issues, especially if you display the person in a bad light and it’s recognizable who you’re talking about! I would also advise against copying fictional characters like for like. You can use other people’s work to get inspiration, but don’t flat-out copy-paste it.]

For me to be able to give life to a character I need to visualize them, especially their face. If I can’t draw inspiration from anyone I know, I will google faces or names. It’s a great way to also get inspiration; seeing a face can trigger your imagination and make you create a character you may not even have thought of before.

That is how I visually choose a character. Their behavior or personality trait is not based on that same person. If I see a face I don’t know, it’s easy to assign them character traits. For people I know it’s harder to dissociate their real personality from the one I want to create for the book. So I often spend time with the characters outside of my book to get to know them.

I can still keep writing in the book, but I will leave the reactions and intensity of the characters to a minimum until I have fleshed them out. And when I can’t write (I’m commuting, cleaning, etc.), I “spend time” with the characters. I imagine what they’re like at home when they’re alone, when they are stressed or scared, how they react when they’re angry or challenged. I also imagine how they would interact with other characters of my book; if you look at yourself, you don’t always act the same depending on who you’re speaking with and I try to recreate that dynamic with my characters.

I might be the one giving them life in the beginning, but they develop a life of their own. Wherever I want the story to go and however I want the characters to interact, is not always up to me. Sometimes I have decided what will happen in the book in a scene, but I realize it doesn’t fit the personality of the character. And then I need to adjust the story to fit the characters.

By doing this, the story often improves because it doesn’t go as I had planned it, and often when you plan a story it can be too linear, too perfect, too predictable and boring. It makes the characters also come to life and not be two-dimensional. They are part of the story and should have their space in the story, not just be part of the decor and ready to nudge the plot on, as and when needed in the direction you want it to go.

If you think of the story you want to tell, not only from the main character’s point of view, but also from other character’s point of view, you may see an angle that could be interesting to explore. How are your characters reacting throughout the story and why? Does it fit with the story itself? If the main character is evolving over the course of the story, are the side-characters also evolving? Does a dramatic occurrence such as a death only influence the main character, or does it spill over into other characters?

2 thoughts on “How do I bring characters to life?

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