Readers want to live and breathe your characters in a novel. They want to walk in your shoes in a memoir. But how do you make your characters become living, breathing people? Even if they only live on the page? Here are some tricks.
Trick 1: Make them more physical
Often as writers we shy away from the physical actions of our characters and stick to what they are thinking or feeling. But readers want more! They want to live in your skin, walk in your shoes, eat with your family and live your life for a few hundred pages. If it's a novel you are going to make this all up. Make sure you get more physical and you embody your character
Idea - Write a scene which is purely physical - they are not talking, simply moving. It may be a game, a a match, a fight, a race or a dance. Chose an action or sport that reveals more about who they are and let us readers feel them sweat, burn and thirst.
Trick 2: Characters all alone should do more than think
While you are thinking and plotting and planning, don’t become disembodied. You need to pace, act, move, smell, taste, plan and inhabit the space. Keep linking your thoughts back to your body. The reader not only wants to know what you look like, they want to know what your physical body feels like and how it moves. They want to actually live in someone else’s body for a while. For this book, it’s yours. This means you need to let a reader know what it likes to feel to be you. This is how Costa Carastavrakis did it in his memoir I am Costa, From Meth to Marathons.
It’s a Sunday night. My mouth has a metallic taste that comes with permanent thirst; stale with a dry yet sticky feel on my tongue. My face and neck muscles are tired and stiff from contracting and contorting my features endlessly.
That’s what my face does on crystal meth.
My eyes open extra wide and my jaw wider. Then I pull a huge smile to stretch my face. That’s stage one. Then I use my face muscles to pinch my face at the mouth and nose.
Stretch. Pull. Hold the ridiculous face. Relax. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Endlessly.
I pull a long deep breath and for a moment, I can feel my heartbeat.
Then I am in freefall.
That’s what it feels like.
I’ve been pushed off a building and I can’t stop falling.
Hang on ... now it feels like I’m floating. Not falling any more.
My eyes droop and jaw relaxes.
I’m hit by a wave of warmth and my shoulders drop.
I tense up and frown a stern face. Then the cycle starts again - contracting and contorting my features.
Then I’m falling again.
Or is this the first time?
Trick 3: You reveal yourself (and others) in setting
Real people are always SOMEWHERE. Where are you? Don’t over-explain and over-describe every location. Rather simply place your characters in their setting. Where is this conversation taking place? Not in the ether… make sure it’s in the real world.
Having spent the better part of ten years working for this airline, you’d have thought I’d have a better parking spot by now. Somewhere within the airport at least where I could park up in the short-stay multi-storey and walk across without getting bloody rained on. But no. As duty manager I’m one of the most senior employees my airline has working over here in the UK; I’m in charge of all that goes on in the airport and I am still parking my car at the bloody north perimeter fence along with all the other riff-raff.
Air Babylon, A Mile-High Journey through the Best-Kept Secrets of the Airline Industry, Imogen Edwards-Jones & Anonymous.