From time to time I like to bring a guest blogger on for a fresh perspective on my bi-weekly “Ask a Ghostwriter” blog series. Today my colleague and friend, Laura Sherman offers us some advice. As a high quality professional ghostwriter, Laura has knack for character and she’s here to talk about it.
As a story unfolds, readers feel and experience it through the actions, viewpoints and dialogue of the characters. When any author or professional ghostwriter writes a memoir or fictional novel, he or she must take care to create and develop characters that are realistic, which will resonate with their audience.
When you read a great book (and hate when you’ve reached the last page) it’s often because you’ve become best friends with the protagonist and don’t want to bid them farewell.
So, how do great authors get you to feel that way?
And how can you learn to develop memorable characters that your readers will adore?
Research Is Required
Whenever you develop a character, you will need to roll up your sleeves and do research. Consider the people you know in real life; every individual is unique. Well, it should be that way in a novel as well. Never resort to a cookie-cutter stereotype. Even as you would learn about the interests and characteristics of a new friend, you’ll need to dig in and discover or develop the idiosyncrasies of the characters in your book. They are, after all, individuals.
Your research for character mannerisms, quirks, and foibles can simply come from observing life. A writer is always viewing the world through a special lens and every interaction is potential fodder for a book. It’s not only the ordinary interplay between two people that I observe. I tend to pay special attention to those awkward moments when people misunderstand each other’s intentions or words. Life is always chock-full of learning moments, which shed light on how people behave.
Research is not limited to studying personality traits. Sometimes you will need to learn about an area of life or a vocation. For instance, if you create a fictional character who is a waiter, but haven’t spent much time in a restaurant, you’ll need to change that. You won’t understand the behavior, the lingo, and the attitudes of a server if you eat every meal at home. Your reader will pick that up, because the scene will fall flat.
Getting The Dialogue Down
Writing dialogue takes time to learn. If you haven’t studied the way people talk, spend some time just listening; you might be surprised by how people interact. As a professional ghostwriter, I often recommend to budding writers that they go to a crowded place and eavesdrop. It’s a great way to learn how people actually speak.
When I was in grade school, I was taught never to use contractions in writing. Well, that doesn’t work when you’re writing a novel or memoir (yes, I used two contractions there, I know.). People use them in life, so you need to use contractions in your writing, especially in dialogue (unless your character is an android who hasn’t been programmed to use informal language).
Keep It Real
As you begin to study people more and more, you might notice that they tend to have distinct ways of communicating in different situations. For instance, two buddies, who have been friends for decades, might develop their own language. You will need to create some inside jokes they can share (and share with the readers). Now, those conversations will be very different from those between a husband and wife, or a boss and subordinate. Explore each relationship and develop the appropriate communication style for that particular bond.
When you first meet someone, anyone, you’re often presented with a certain façade. People tend to be polite and behave in a certain way, one that isn’t completely authentic. Over time you really get to know the person and tear down that false front. When you introduce your characters, you don’t have time for false façades—you need to dive into reality. Write your characters as if you and your readers have known them for years. Show the flaws upfront.
Some new writers feel that their “good” characters should never show faults. That’s a great way to make them two-dimensional. Good guys have bad habits and can lose it from time to time. And it’s worth pointing out that bad guys can have good moments too. After all, they rarely view themselves as bad.
If you study people and note both their good and bad qualities, it will help you write realistic characters that will resonate with readers. Give your characters a nice balance.
Creating good, realistic characters is a lot of fun for any professional ghostwriter or any author. You’ll need to dig in and do some research, listen to the way people interact, and write with reality. It’s a bit like meeting new people and learning all about them. Immerse yourself in the process; your readers will thank you for it.
Do you have tips for capturing realistic characters that you would like to share?
If so, leave them in the comments.
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While this book doesn’t necessarily cover the topic of writing characters as this blog does, it does serve as a primer for a professional mentality with your writing.
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