Everyone knows that it’s the details that make your character spring to life. Small details pull a reader in, make her or him human (or not) and allow a reader to relate and want to learn more. As writers, we all know this. Many of us, however, ignore these small details in our fever of writing. We get so caught up in the plot, in the story itself, we lose track of what makes our characters stand out.
William Bernhardt has a wonderfully unique idea. I honestly wish I had thought of it but I have to tip my hat to Mr. Bernhardt for the concept. Let me take a circuitous route to the idea so you understand this wonderful concept.
A writer should know his/her character inside and out. What was her childhood like? Was she pampered, spanked, have a hard time in school or did her breeze through grade school to the envy, and perhaps animosity of his peers? Did he eat something one day, becoming deathly ill, and hate that food every since? Did she have a little too much to drink at a high school game, hitting the mailbox on the way home, trying to negotiate the moving driveway? Was his first sex experience the normal adolescent bumbling and awkward moment or was he seduced by a mid thirtys neighbor lady? C’mon, admit it, you want to know now, don’t you? Just these last three sentences have you wanting more, don’t they? You want answers.
Obviously, not every detail belongs in a story. If you included all of the above details in your story, with the many others that make up your character’s life, your story could very well drag on and become tediously boring. I’m not saying to include every detail of your character’s life in your work. What I am saying is you have to be aware of these details. You have to know them. You should know your characters, all of them, from the moment of birth until the moment of death. You are aware the irony of life is that none of us get out of it alive. Neither does your character, at least not most characters. You don’t have to write about those final moments, you don’t even have to address them in any of your work, but your should know them.
This works for characters of all ages too. For example, if you’re writing a coming of age story and your protagonist is fourteen, how does this concept help you? It helps a great deal actually. Remember, you have to know your character from birth to death. Everything that happened in the life of that character. Perhaps your main character is a boy. He has dreams of becoming a fighter pilot in the air force but because of an ear infection when he was six his sense of balance is not good enough for him to become a fighter pilot. So, his love of power and speed sends him in another direction. Perhaps as a racecar driver or even head mechanic of a successful Daytona racing team.
How does this help you write this character? You can show his interest, even at this early age, of speed and power. Maybe he likes to accompany his parents, or talks them into going, to drag races or stack car races. Probably he talks them into taking him to air shows. Perhaps he tinkers with his bike and comes up with a new gear ratio that makes it extremely fast. These small details could make this character come to life because they make him relatable to your readers. You only know this about your character because you know what his life will be like. You know it, pardon the pun, like a book.
With this background, your characters become alive, they become human, they become relatable. Your readers will want more. If you know your characters thoroughly you can add these small human qualities, earned by their experiences, into your work to make your readers understand your characters. The reader will want to know more because your character now has a background you’ve allowed the reader to peer into, however briefly.
As for the idea Mr. Bernhardt suggested, once you understand your character, you should be able to create a believable Facebook page. Your characters have a life now, they have experiences, they have depth and solidity. I’ll take Mr. Bernhardt’s concept a step further. If you do this for all of your characters it can become the kernel for an author’s page. Oh, not a single page. With very few exceptions there hasn’t been a book written primarily about a single character. Yes, there have been some notable ones like ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and even ‘The Martian’ but those are the exception, not the rule. Assume for a minute you have an author’s site and, for each story, you provide links to the Facebook pages of your characters? What a unique experience for your reader!
It’s also a good experience for you. You get to know your characters inside and out. Was that scar on his cheek obtained by a fight in a bar during his military career or during a snowball fight when he was a kid when one of the combatants threw an iceball at him? Is your heroine thin today because her mother made her feel guilty as a youngster because she was a bit on the heavy side? Does she have an attitude because of an incident at Marine boot camp she never shared with anyone else? You can use this concept to put flesh on the bones of your character, bring them to life and make your readers want to know more.
Thank you Mr. Bernhardt. I am indebted to you.