Writing Real Characters--How I Got to Know the Characters in Me (and) Me
You may have noticed when you’re in a café that there’s a person sitting there with headphones on, humming to themselves, and seemingly in deep conversation with their own thoughts.
See, I’m that person in the café, listening to quiet music, and having conversations with the people who live in my head. This is a weird confession, but my characters feel like real people already. Sometimes I even hear them chatting to me, or to each other. My job as a writer, it seems to me, is to make those characters real to my readers too.
I actually follow a series of steps, honed during writing five published novels (and many more unpublished ones). Below I’ve shared these steps with you, just in case any of you have characters chatting to you in your head too.
Step One: I search the Internet for a face who looks like the made-up person whispering to me. Here’s a picture of a guy who looks a bit like Alec (Alec is one of the main characters in Me (and) Me). This guy doesn’t look exactly like Alec, but he’s close enough to give me someone to look at when I need to write visual descriptions.
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Step Two: I interview my characters, using this . There are lots of other writing workshops on there for those of you who love to write.
Step Three: I spend some time researching the things my character loves. Lark is the protagonist of Me (and) Me. She’s a singer-songwriter. I didn’t know much about that so I had to interview real singer-songwriters to get a sense of what that life might be like. I needed to flesh out what Lark would know about singing and writing songs. I also read a lot of books about writing songs, and listened to tons of great bands.
Alec loves parkour. I spent time with the parkour community in Saskatoon, where I live, watching them and asking questions. I tried a few moves (I am NOT good at parkour), and sought out YouTube videos of people doing parkour and free-climbing to root Alec’s passion in reality.
Step Four: I listen to people all the time. I make notes about dialogue I’ve overheard. This helps me think about how characters sound. Then, when I’ve written a draft, I read the dialogue aloud over and over again—I need to make sure the words I’m using echo the person speaking in my head. I need them to sound as real to you as they do to me.
Step Five: I let go. I write the characters as best I can, and then I trust that my reader is smart and has their own imagination. They can take the details I’ve shared and make the characters whomever they want them to be. I want my readers to have their own relationships with my characters and the only way for that to happen is for me to keep MOST of what I know about my characters to myself. I have to choose which bits to share to serve my story and then keep the rest in my head, knowing that I’ve done my best to make those people lurking in my mind as vivid and real as I can.
If you feel inspired to do some writing, come and find me on where I share image writing prompts regularly.
Thanks so much for having me on your great site. I really appreciate it!
Bestselling, award winning author Alice Kuipers has published four award-winning YA novels internationally, most recently, The Death of Us, a CLA shortlisted title. Her two picture books feature twins Violet and Victor and she has an upcoming chapter books series with Chronicle Press. Me (and) Me, her fifth YA novel, is described by Bif Naked as mesmerising.
Alice has four children.
Find her writing tips here: www.alicekuipers.com