Monday, April 17, 2017

real people = lousy characters

When first novelists start creating characters for their novels, most of them begin by picking out a half-dozen of their friends or family members and changing their names. Big mistake.

Real people make really lousy characters because you can’t change them. You can’t push them around. You can’t get them to do what you need them to do. 

It is not a good idea to take real people, whole, and stuff them into your novel. The whole point of being an author is that your characters do what you tell them to do. That’s not true with real people. Basing your characters on real people is much too limiting for your work as a novelist because real people can never meet all your story needs. You need to create characters who will plausibly do what you need them to do.

Fictional characters should be composites of various people you've observed, strangers and friends alike, whipped up with a touch of imagination. Use fragments, a gesture, a voice, a face, from various people to create your characters. It’s sort of like putting together a Frankenstein monster, but in a nice way.

Above all, the characters must actually work in the story you’re trying to tell. If you feel bound by the truth and you try to duplicate that real person precisely, it will hurt the story, every time. You shouldn't duplicate a real person because you probably don’t know this person as well as you think you do. After all, you’ll never be inside their brains, their memory or their soul. You don’t really know why they do the things they do.

That’s one thing about writing fiction that makes it radically different from living a real life; in real life, we never really know other people. However, with fictional characters, we have the opportunity to know them as completely as we want to. We can know a character better than we can ever know a human being.

Fiction isn't reality. It's better. Because fiction is make-believe, it has to be more logical than real life if it is to be believed. Real people run your life. Characters allow you to run theirs. Remember that, as a novelist, you can make people do what you want them to do. So use your power.

Above from the book NOVEL SECRETS,
available for Kindle for only $.99 cents:

Lary Crews