Creating Characters That Readers Love: 3 Tips for Writers

Image courtesy of Publishers Weekly

Walt Gragg, author of ‘The Red Line,’ shares with us and you his tips for creating unforgettable characters readers will surely love.

One of the great things about being a writer is that you get to meet so many other writers along the way. From the extremely famous to the highly obscure, the chance to interact and talk about the trade with others who are a part of this business happens for most of us at least a couple of times each year.

Something you soon learn is that none of us goes about the process of creating a novel in exactly the same way. There are as many approaches to this craft as there are people writing. No one way is better than another. Whatever works for that writer, works for that writer. Some are rigidly detailed outliners who go about the process in an exceptionally structured manner. For them, by the time they have finished their robust outline they have created such a precise skeleton that the book is nearly written. Others are the exact opposite, sitting down and writing a novel without any outlining whatsoever. These writers frequently let the story and the characters lead them through the yet unknown. Again, neither is the correct approach, whatever works for you, works for you.

I fall into the non-outlining group. When beginning to create a new novel all I typically know is the beginning and the ending of the story, and who some of the lead characters might be. I have no idea how the story will get from the first word to the last page. Yet somehow, the adventure always finds its way to a logical, hopefully exciting, conclusion. And doing it this way can make for a wonderful, wild ride that is just as much fun for the writer as it is for the reader.

Reviewers and readers have been consistent in their comments about my novel The Red Line, a World War III epic about a war between the United States and Russia – the action scenes are some of the best they’ve ever experienced, and the story’s characters are incredibly compelling.

With regards to the characters there are three questions about which curious readers seek answers:

  1. How did you create such realistic, relatable characters?

The actual answer is: I don’t know, it just happens. I write and rewrite as much as necessary to make those in the story come alive and leap from the page. Until that happens, that character isn’t yet ready. Unlike writers who create superheroes capable of defeating 30 deadly assassins armed with fully automatic rifles using only a paper clip and a sliver of a broken stick, my characters are all ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. While my approach to writing is to minimize the description aspect, I do everything I can to make them women and men you care about, make them people much like you and me. One of the great things about creating a book where people fall in love with the characters is that even though I’ve written a novel whose subject is one many people don’t think would interest them, the story is actually attracting a wide variety of readers. Women and men are both enjoying the read.

2. Are the characters based on real people?

With rare exception, the characters in my novels are not based on anyone in particular. Writers are constantly observing people and when we combine that with our experiences these characters, how they act and talk, and who they are, just appear. So each one of the characters who live on the pages in my novels is created using bits and pieces of hundreds I’ve met over the years.

3. Once you’ve created them, do the characters seem like real people to you?Strangely enough, the characters do seem real. Most writers tell me they feel the same about the people in their stories. They take on a life of their own. As I develop the story, I can see what even the minor characters look like even if I don’t describe them in the book. I can hear them as they talk. In fact, when writing, especially if it’s dialogue, the characters frequently are present in the room. They typically are standing behind my right shoulder. I can see them and hear them as they speak. I know it sounds odd, but that’s what happens. As I create each scene they talk and all I do is write down what they say. So they are quite alive to me as the writer.

Hope all of you are enjoying whatever it is you are presently reading, and every book to come. May the characters we create always come alive for you…

 

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