Make friends with your characters

Through my years of writing, I have written a total of three novels.  And yet, I’ve only just published my first novel this year.

So what was the difference?  What made this story easier to clean up and publish than the other two?

I knew my characters.

Before I even wrote the story, I took the time to map out a loose storyline to follow.  And then I made a list of every character who felt important to me in the story.  I created a bio of each character, writing a first-person account of where they’d been, why they acted the way they did, their likes and dislikes, what they looked like…anything that helped them change from 2-dimensional words to actual human beings.

For example:

“My name is Josiah, but everyone calls me Joey.  I like Josiah better than Joey, though I don’t really like either of those names at all.  It’s like my mom was making me a dork before I was even born by strapping an old Biblical name on me.  She’s not even that religious.  I mean, she believes in God and all, but it’s not like we go to church.
I’m 13 years old, a bit chubby, and in 8th grade.  I have brown hair that always seems too long.  I’m 5’4, just as tall as my mom.  I hope I grow a lot taller because the guys in my grade are already passing me up, and a few of the girls too.
I have a couple friends.  My mom is always bugging me to go visit them, but she doesn’t realize I already am.  Every day after homework, we all meet online to play.  We’re just playing in a way she’s not used to.  Right now we’re working at building a whole world on a server we created together.  The more I play, the more I realize that I really want to be an architect when I grow up.  Lately I’ve been paying more attention to what John is up to in his construction business.  When he realized that I was interested, he let me come with him to a few jobs.  I like John.  He doesn’t try and make me like him by talking too much or prying into my stuff.  He’s quiet, like me.  He’s more like a dad to me than anyone else, besides my grandfather.
I never knew my real dad.  I’ve looked him up online before and found him, though my mom doesn’t know.  There wasn’t much there.  He was on one of those social sites and had some photos up.  He doesn’t seem to have any kids, not that I know of.  And he’s still kind of like a kid himself.  He kind of reminds me of a dirtier version of Sam, still partying and living it up.  There are pictures of him with random girls and always with a beer in his hand.  I wish I’d never seen any of the photos because it was kind of a let down.  Now I can’t pretend my dad is something great.”

When I started writing, these characters were with me.  They actually began to take over and write the story for me.  Some of the characters that I thought were going to be important ended up with just mere mentions and nothing else.  And others ended up taking up chapters of space when they were only meant to be mere mentions.

Who knows what can happen?

If you’re familiar with your characters, they might just take you on a wild ride of a story that you never planned out at all – and it might be better than what you came up with in the first place. Aaaaand….writing about them becomes that much easier because you’re writing about friends, and not strangers.


Crissi Langwell is the debut author of A Symphony of Cicadas.  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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