Thursday, September 27, 2012

Making Your Characters Come Alive

What makes a book one you are unable to put down? Why do you identify with some characters right away and others leave you cold? It's the characters. They become your companions as you travel through the book. You see their lives as they unfold before you. Each sentence cementing your opinion of them. Some characters are the kind you would like to bring home with you and introduce to your family. While others are ones you might never want to meet, but their lives are so vibrant you can't stop thinking about them. Many times readers connect with the villains in a story and even though the character might be repugnant to them, the readers can't stop reading about this character.

Examples of this kind of character can be seen in the Harry Potter books. Harry Potter as a character becomes someone you can't stop reading about and about whose life you feel strongly. His opposite, Voldemort is a mean and vicious villain. But each of these characters' lives becomes a thread you must hold onto until the book is finished.

To use an example of one of my own characters, Carolyn Samuels in my young adult novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor is someone who most readers connect with and whose story they want to follow. Many of the reviews say the reader couldn't put this book down. The same is true for the mean girl, Jennifer Taylor in the same novel, whose story intersects with Carolyn's. Many readers identify with Jennifer. She is a very complicated character whose mean streak has a reason.

How do you create such a character? What does a writer need to do to fashion characters like these? I think the one thing that a reader will be attracted to is a truthful portrayal of the character. To do this you as a writer must know your character even before you write one word on your page. Knowing what is most important to this character and what they will do to get it gives the writer a way to create a strong plot line. Make your readers feel something for your character right away on the first page. In other words, hook them with your first paragraph. Surround your character with people and/or animals who will reflect the kind of person your character is. With a strong and charismatic character and a well organized plot line yours will be one of the books that people say they can't put down.

What happens when you have created strong characters and have a good plot line is the story will write itself. The best time is when the characters start to interact and you have no idea what they will say. Yet there it is on the page. Your characters have written the story and you have transcribed it. The best parts of my novel were written this way. If while you are writing a character seems to want to shine a little more, let it. Don't try to fence in your characters. They need room to grow and expand and the best characters show growth by the end of the book.

Carolyn Samuels is obsessed with the idea of being popular. She is convinced that the only thing keeping her from happiness is her too heavy for fashion body and not being a cheerleader. Hyperventilating when she gets nervous doesn’t help. When she is paired for a math project with the girl who tormented her in middle school, Jennifer Taylor, she is sure it is going to be another year of pain. With Carolyn’s crush on Jennifer’s hunky junior quarterback, Brad her freshman year in high school looks like a rerun of middle school. When Jennifer is the only student who knows why she fell in gym class, Carolyn is blackmailed into doing her math homework in return for Jennifer’s silence. Jennifer takes on Carolyn as a pity project since she can’t be seen with someone who dresses in jeans and sweatshirts. When Jennifer invites Carolyn to spend the night to make her over and teach her to tumble, Carolyn learns Jennifer’s secret and lies to her own friends to cover it up. Will Carolyn become a cheerleader and popular? Does she continue to keep Jennifer’s secret? Or will she be a target of this mean girl again?

Find If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor as an ebook or in print:

Muse Bookstore:

Barnes and Noble

Barbara Ehrentreu Bio:

Barbara, a retired teacher with a Masters degree in Reading and Writing K-12 and seventeen years of teaching experience lives with her family in Stamford, Connecticut. She has been editing for 4RVPublishing for several years. When she received her Masters degree she began writing seriously. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor is Barbara’s first YA novel published by MuseItUp Publishing. It won 2nd place in Preditors and Editors Best Young Adult Novel of 2011. In addition she has a story in the anthology: Lavender Dreams and three poems in Prompted: An International Collection of Poems and five poems in Beyond the Dark Room: An International Collection of Transformational Poetry.  Several of her poems have been published in online magazines. Her blog, Barbara’s Meanderings,, is networked on both Facebook and Blog Catalog. She hosts Red River Writers Live Tales from the Pages on Blog Talk Radio every 4th Thursday. In addition, her children's story, “The Trouble with Follow the Leader” and an adult story, “Out on a Ledge” are published online She has written book reviews for and several of her reviews have been on Acewriters and Celebrity CafĂ©. She is a member of SCBWI. Writing is her life!

1 comment:

J Q Rose said...

I like your advice to just let your characters take over the story and then you "transcribe" the conversation. That is truly a case of knowing your characters. In If I Could be Like Jennifer Taylor you wrote rich characters so many of us could know cause we'd been there! Great post.