How to Create People Who Live and Breathe on the Page

Now that you have an idea for a story, you need to give it away.

What's that? you say. But it's my idea. Why should I give it away?

Because it doesn't belong to you, that's why. It belongs to your characters.

Characters are the first essential ingredient in any successful story. Your idea won't come alive, won't begin to become a story, until some characters claim it as their own. The story comes out of their motives, their desires, their actions and interactions and reactions.

It has been said that writing a story is just a matter of dropping some characters into a situation and watching what they do. That's far too simplistic, of course, but the characters are the key to the story. They are ones who must engage readers' attention and sympathy. As we identify with them and become concerned about them, our uncertainty about their fates creates the tension and suspense that keeps us turning the pages.

In a story built around a highly intricate plot, it might seem as though the structure would be the dominant element. But the characters are still paramount. You can't rely on cardboard cutouts to make the machinations of the plot convincing. You need characters in your story who are not only well-rounded and believable, but who suit this particular set of events.

As the author, you expect to be the boss, to have these people firmly under your control. But the best fictional characters have minds of their own. Match the right characters with the right story and they will become valuable collaborators in your creative process.

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