Characters ARE Important! Mary Deal Tells Us All About Them

Importance of Characters

 by

Mary Deal

How many great stories do you remember? The plots hold a place in memory, but chances are, you more remember the characters that made the plots come alive. The greatest story will fall flat if lackluster characters people the plot.

When readers read a story and find the characters not performing the way they should in their given situations, it’s because the writer has not developed them to their fullest potential in the action. The writer hasn’t made them true-to-life. How can a reader feel empathy for empty characters? It’s a huge let-down for a story that held enough enticement for the person to buy the book.

Whether the first book you’ve read, or the most recent, when you realize which are your favorites, what do you remember about them? Chances are your mind goes straight to the characters that made the story work for you. Especially with the older stories, you may not remember all the details of the action. You may remember the plot overall, but you will remember the characters that stood out in the action. You’ll probably even remember the way they were costumed.

You have probably already committed to memory some lines of unique dialogue that you’ll never forget. Dialogue comes from the characters. Dialogue can cause a person to remember a story long after the entire story fades from memory. One line of dialogue can renew the feelings we had when we first experienced the action of the story.

What do you feel or re-live when you hear or remember “Here’s looking at you, Kid.” What story do you associate with that line of dialogue? What do you remember about the character who said it?

How about “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Characters and their dialogue can bring back all the feelings and emotions that the story created, without having to remember every scene and bit of action of the plot.

The importance of great characters can’t be stressed enough. To make them memorable, or to help your reader suspend disbelief and feel empathy and care for your characters, you must make them as real or true-to-life as possible. If your characters just don’t work in a scene or in the entire story, they will be interpreted as contrived.

The writer does not make a memorable character by describing him or her to the nth degree. The writer will establish the character only as much as allows us to know that personality and what their life may be about. Then that character will react to situations as they appear. That’s one of the places where the story – or the characters – will write themselves.

For example, a happily married housewife will react differently to a man making a pass than would a party girl. It all depends on how you set up your characters. They all have different personalities and their reactions and dialogue will be consistent with the characteristics you establish for them.

When I say to establish the character only as much as allows us to know that personality and what their life may be about, a lot more goes into that then finds its way into the story. See my article, Character Sketches. In a character sketch, you will develop so much about each character that you will feel you are them. All of that information does not make it into the story but it sets them up for story people whose actions and reactions will create or flesh out the story. The writer knowing the character well sets up how the character will react in scenes.

Opposite of that, if the writer doesn’t know the characters very well, how can they know how a certain personality will react to anything?

Of all the people in the world, each of us is unique. Of all the characters in all stories written – incomparably fewer than actual living people – each new character in each new story must be a stand-out.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

About Mike Angley

Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the Child Finder Trilogy. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force in 2007 following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He held 13 different assignments throughout the world, among which were five tours as a Commander of various units, to include two Air Force Squadrons and a Wing. He is a seasoned criminal investigator and a counterintelligence and counterterrorism specialist. In his last assignment, he was Commander of OSI Region 8 with responsibility for all of Air Force Space Command. He’s fond of saying, “If it entered or exited Earth’s atmosphere, I had a dog in the fight!”
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