Making Pretend People Seem Real – April 2023 Round Robin

This month we’re looking at how we breathe life into the characters on the page.

Or, as I like to put it, how we make pretend people seem real.

Without sounding completely unhinged… Or, well. I suppose it’s going to sound completely unhinged no matter how I put it, but the majority of my characters show up in my head with voices and mannerisms intact. That isn’t to say I know everything about them, but that their behavior is there, and the process of writing the first draft unveils the why of that behavior.

If I were smarter, I would design a character from scratch, but I’m afraid that’s just not me.

The best way to make the character come to life and feel like a three-dimensional, honest to goodness human being, is putting them in a situation that everyone can relate to. In Sedition, the opening pages have my main character Trenna in a bar-fight-duel thing, which is a lot of action and not many people can really relate to that. Her mannerisms are clear, her desire to maintain neutrality in a highly tense political setting is seen, but she doesn’t come to life until she is standing with her ex-boyfriend saying goodbye.

Because everyone has an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/whatever.

We’ve all been there. We know that unsettled pang that hits when you see that person fresh after a breakup. Everything that happened hangs in the air and everything that might have been taunts you. Giving Trenna that moment is what made her come to life.

In Tapped, we have Devon Barlow trying to fix hauling equipment on an interstellar ship. Again, not something a lot of people can relate to. But we have all worked somewhere that has faulty equipment because the powers-that-be haven’t coughed up the cash to fix it proper. His frustrations hit a familiar chord, which brings him to life.

Last example, I promise…

In my upcoming novel Nora and the Werewolf Wedding, we open with Nora waiting for a vampire and an elf to talk to her. Not precisely something we can experience in real life, but sitting in an uncomfortable chair, listening to a clock ticking, and getting a knot in our shoulder is a bit more common. Focusing on the immediate details and allowing the character to share not only what they see, but how they see it, brings that character – and the story itself – a vibrancy it otherwise would lack.

Nora doesn’t just see a vampire. She sees a svelte, opulent woman with more poise in her fingernail than Nora possesses in her whole body. And this tells us more about Nora as a person than three pages of backstory ever could.

So that is my trick, I guess, for bringing fake people some realness.

I take real stuff that people can relate to – a breakup, a cheap boss, feeling frumpy – and I put it front and center. Check out what some of my fellow authors do to breathe life into their characters by following the links below.

Anne Stenhouse

Connie Vines

Diane Bator

Dr. Bob Rich

Fiona McGier

Marci Baun

Victoria Chatham

A.J. Maguire ((YOU ARE HERE))

Skye Taylor

Helena Fairfax

Judith Copek

6 thoughts on “Making Pretend People Seem Real – April 2023 Round Robin

  1. I love your examples. And yes, giving the readers a way to relate to the events and feelings in a character’s life is what makes them come alive. Just the way they live in your head–now they can live in the reader’s head also. And your head gets slightly less noisy–until the next group starts demanding their story be told!

  2. Believe it or not, a human head weighs about 11 lbs or 5kg. How much heavier is a writer’s head with all those characters inhabiting it? It’s no wonder we have to write them into life.

  3. Ha! I was saying the same thing. A character’s reaction to the world around them and the people they are say as much about the character, or more, than a lengthy back story.

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