Thursday, December 31, 2009

Visualize Your Characters

Yesterday, I went to see Avatar at the IMAX. Super movie. I plan to go see it again.

As I was coming home, though, I got to thinking about two aspects of the movie: the Characters and the Story. Both played major roles. But I think it’s the characters who carry the story.

The message in the movie is not new. The plot is not new (of course, there aren’t any new plots, just versions of old plots). The setting is different, but recognizable.

The characters and how they interacted with each other pulled me into the movie and kept me hooked.

I would love to have my readers so involved with the characters that they stayed glued to the story, forgoing bathroom breaks and ignoring all around them.

To create those kinds of characters, the author has to see and be the characters s/he’s writing. She has to know how the characters think, feel, react, love, and believe. She has to know who they are at their core and what they’re trying to hide. She has to be able to see them from top to bottom, from toenails to eyelashes, from spots to tail. And the author has to be able to get the reader to see and feel that character through their actions, their words, their reactions, their emotions, their decisions - not through looking in a mirror.

Have you written a character who came to life on the page? Have you read a character who felt real and whole to you? Is your character so real to you that you can see him? Can your readers?

(Have a Happy New Year's Eve, everyone!)
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  1. Helen, I felt the same way about the movie - I connected with the characters despite the basic story and forgot all else. (And I am going to see it again today!)

    My books are very character and relationship driven, so I hope that my readers connect. Most of those characters have come alive for me, even to the point I have dreamed about them.

    Happy New Year Helen! Thanks for creating such an awesome blog. I always find something intriguing here!

  2. I enjoy reading and writing character driven stories. My characters seem real to me and I can visualize them easily, but then I spent a lot more time with them than the reader has. However, I hope that readers can see them, too.

  3. I don't really fancy Avatar but will give it a shot. After some films you come away whistling the music wether the film is good or bad. After some films you come away whistling the special effects!

    All the best for 2010 Helen!

  4. There are books that pull you in and you feel like you're in the moment with them. Those are the best books.

    Hope you have a safe and Happy New Year.

  5. Paul, the special effects are pretty awesome in Avatar, I admit. The theme may be a tad heavy-handed, but it was still the characters that kept me riveted.

  6. Great comparison, Helen. Everything I've heard about "Avatar" talks about how stunning and real the characters are.

    Strong characters are what makes me enjoy reading a book.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  7. My son saw this and said pretty much the same thing. He said the plot was predictable, but everything else was so good, he overlooked that.

  8. I can't wait to see this movie, I promised I would wait for my daughter to return home in a few days.

    Character mean everything to me. They live and breathe with me will I'm telling their story. Writing character driven fiction is the best kind, in my opinion.

    Have a great New Year!

  9. I have a coffee cup that pretty much says it all.

    Writer's lament:
    I sometimes struggle to find my inner Lazy Alcoholic Womanizing Deadbeat Asshole.

    I think if you can't connect on an intimate level with your characters as you're writing them, the readers won't connect either.

  10. I love Laura's coffee cup. Where can I get one?
    I found the plot on Avatar predictable also but loved the movie anyway. The best things about the special effects for me was the display of emotion by the aliens. They were beautiful.
    I hope as a writer my characters are so alive on the pages and in the minds of readers. I know I'm writing the last book in my fantasy series right now and already dreading never writing about these people again.
    As a reader, I stopped reading a certain author's suspense series after she killed my favorite character in one of the more recent novels.

  11. Because I write Jane Austen inspired stories so the characters are set for me. But I hope I bring a slightly different Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to my readers with each different story. Otherwise I will bore them to tears.

    Happy New Year to you too and hope you have a great 2010!

    Really Angelic

  12. Characters are what make the book. For me, they're the most important aspect. I know my characters very well - and I hope they come across as real to others as well!

  13. I don't know, since I don't get much feedback about my books from the readers. Everything about my stories is character-driven, even the plot, so I hope they do.

  14. I'm still learning how to get to know my characters that well, but I'm starting to dream about them. A good sign?

  15. One of my favorite characters in my writing is Boo Murphy, an old woman who prefers swamps, pirogues, fishing and hunting, and DAWG, more than she likes people! I really became her when I wrote her in my latest mystery, Dead Wreckoning. So much so that she is getting her own series, called Swamp Sleuth!

    And I still must go so Avatar.

  16. Laura, I want that coffee cup! Do you remember where you got it?

    Liza, I dream about my characters when I'm writing them, too. So, yes, of course, it's a good sign. Not weirdness at all.

    Sylvia, Yay! I'm glad to see Boo is getting her own series. What fun.

  17. Here's the link. :)

  18. I love reading these posts.... I am beginning to see that my characters can be like the imaginary playmates of my childhood... who were as real to me as the flesh and blood people around me...

    looking forward to learning much more in the new year..

  19. I'll have to add Avatar to my do-see list.
    I can see my characters and work to make them take leaps I might not, do the unpredictable and unexpected, thus keeping my readers surprised. Sometimes they want to be a tad too quiet and well-behaved for fiction.
    I want that mug, too!
    Happy New Year.

  20. Characters indeed, make books what they are.

    I labor to make mine as colorful as possible. It's hard being your only critic though.

    Happy New Year!

  21. Thank you Laura!

    Sally, I'm looking forward to the new year as well.

    Characters are only human, Kathy. They sometimes have to be nudged.

    Quillfeather, if you don't have trusted readers, perhaps you could start your own critique group or join an online group.

  22. We were just talking about this movie, and I'm glad to hear it hooked you. Happy New Year!

  23. Avatars on my list to see soon too :)

    I'm really passionate about my characters. They become so real to me, they feel like friends, very much a part of my life. It's painfully real sometimes, especially with all the mean things I inevitably have to do to them. It's always so sad to move on to a new project and leave my old friends behind, at least until I fall in love with the new set!

    I couldn't imagine finishing a project if I didn't feel that way about the people in it. I have to love them to keep interested, no matter how interesting the story might be.

  24. My characters always seem real to me. The question is, are they real enough and interesting enough for a reader to care about.

  25. Characters are the ones who carry the story and, from all the comments, they are also the ones who carry the writer's heart.

  26. My characters are all very real to me!

    I can't write about what I can't visualise.(something I have no problem doing)


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