I often think that writing is a bit like painting a picture except you’re using words. For instance, a painter engages the viewer with the subject of the painting, the colours, style and the medium in which it’s painted. And apart from the visual aspects there are the emotional ones too, bringing enjoyment and awakening memories perhaps. No doubt the painter seeks not only to have the viewer look at the painting but to see what the painter is trying to convey.
Similarly, writers strive to engage their readers, taking them on a journey into the world they create; using their words skilfully like a painter uses brushes.
To create this world you need engaging characters, settings in which your story is told, structure, the building blocks, plot, a sequence of events, theme, the message it sends to the reader, and conflict that creates the action. But this alone is not enough. Other ingredients are needed to make this world real. They include the five senses - smell, taste, sound, touch, sight, as well as showing rather than telling your story.
Today we’re going to talk about creating engaging characters.
Cardboard characters v Three dimensional characters
If you only describe your characters physical attributes, ie, their looks, idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes, they’ll appear flat and lifeless to your readers.
To bring your characters to life you have also to reveal their emotional and psychological sides in the course of telling your story. For example, their thinking processes, why they react as they do in certain situations, etc.
It might be something external to your main character. For example, in my Fitzjohn mystery series this external force comes in the form of Fitzjohn’s nemesis, Chief Superintendent Grieg. At the same time, there are internal forces at work concerning Fitzjohn. The death of his wife, Edith. And we can’t forget Edith's legacy, a greenhouse full of orchids, and the murder case Fitzjohn is investigating. All these elements help to create a three dimensional character that readers can relate to and care about.
And this leads us to your characters back stories. What are their pasts?
All the above helps to create characters that your readers will care about or loathe depending on whether it is your protagonist or your villain. They will appear as real to your readers as they are to you as the writer.