Bringing a Character to Life

by | May 24, 2022 | Blog, Creativity, For Writers, On Writing

Making characters come alive is one of the trickiest, but most important elements of writing. When you see how they look in your mind — and can hear their voice echoing — then you’ve begun to know who they are. But it’s not until they lean close and whisper to you their innermost secrets – their deepest fears, their highest hopes, and their innermost longings — that they are truly real. And if they are fully real for you, as the writer, they will also be real for your reader.


Introducing a character

Throw them in — let their actions introduce them. Any good character is immersed in relationships, a particular place, and a gripping situation. So jump right in! Show the readers – don’t just tell them — what the characters are like.


Developing a character

I watch people around me and look at the small things: how they talk, how they walk, how they gesture. Then I try to go inside them to look at their motivations. Next, I must name my characters.

Names are very important! A name must really fit a character. Sometimes I know that a name must be part of a certain culture or language where the story originates. Such as Laoni, the Native American girl in The Ancient One, or Tamwyn, the wilderness guide who travels to the stars in The Great Tree of Avalon. Laoni’s name I found in researching tribal names from the Pacific Northwest, while Tamwyn’s name I made up using Celtic roots since the Avalon trilogy (like the other books in The Merlin Saga) is grounded in Celtic myth. Another example: Emrys.

Sometimes I make up a new language for a particular creature (such as Shim or Ballymag in the Merlin books), and in those cases, I use the new language to make the character’s name. And sometimes I just wait until a name that feels exactly right comes into my mind! (Once my three-year-old daughter, who was making up rhymes, gave me the idea for a character’s name that had eluded me for months. That was Kandeldandel.) A great moment… but I scared her!


Making the characters real

Just make absolutely sure that your imaginary world feels real. Make it true! If the places and people you’re writing about don’t feel real to you then they won’t feel believable to the reader. That’s one of the reasons I include maps in all my books: They make the worlds more detailed and believable.


Creating original characters

Inventing original creatures is always fun.  To get your thinking started, combine two or three creatures you know into one — and then imagine what kind of extra special eyes would it have.  What language would it speak?  And while you’re at it, what magical powers would it have?


Focus on Key Ideas and Characters

This is a serious issue, especially in novels that hope to create a rich, complex, believable world. Sometimes I have to tell perfectly good plot ideas and viable characters, “Just sit down and shut up.” The key is to remember exactly what essential characters, magical places, and underlying ideas caught my attention in the first place — enough to go through all the agony of writing.