Your characters have only the life you give them. They exist within your head, they do as they’re told and, at the end of the story, they vanish; sometimes forever. I’ve written a lot of fragments, not stories but just ‘character workouts’. Sometimes they’re for characters I want to place within a story, sometimes they just knock on the door of my imagination and say ‘Hey - how about giving me something to do?’. I then try to think of a situation to let them come to life in, rather than just jot down a list of - what else? - characteristics. Now that’s not the ‘approved’ way of doing it. Most books of writing advice tell you to fill in a ‘character sheet’ that lists height, sex, eye colour, hair colour, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that - it’s just not the way I work. If it works for you, fine, but I’ve always tried to ‘see’ through the characters eyes. Anyway, here’s a couple of exercises that may convey what I mean in a better way. I’ve dreamed up two characters. Try putting them in a scene. Where the scene is and what they do - that’s up to you. Here goes.

Harry is a middle-aged man. He’s got a good job, is married with two kids and a grandchild. He’s a big man,a bit paunchy now but used to do a lot of sports before his knee gave up. His hair is going grey and he worries that he’s not seen as a young guy anymore. He’s just taken up golf, likes to dress well and enjoys a beer.

Jane is a twenty-something mother of two. She and her husband split recently and she’s finding life difficult. Her kids are aged four and three. She’s not working at the moment. She’s a good looking woman and always used to enjoy going out and parties. Now she feels isolated and under pressure.

Write a scene to bring them to life, no more than 500 words. Try different scenarios - three or four at least - and you will soon see how characters can change in differing situations, It;s really great practice!

Have you ever heard the opinion that John Wayne never played anyone but John Wayne? It’s not true, of course, but Wayne was such a character in his own right that people identified with him as the character he played, such was his charisma. In writing, that’s a thing to be wary of. Your characters must stay true to type and they must not be you dressed in other clothes.

For example: you’re writing a crime story. The villain of the piece is a violent bank robber. He’ll do things you would never dream of doing (and I’m not just talking about robbing banks) or saying. Yet you would be surprised by the number of writers who steer clear of actions or words that their characters would do or say, simply because ‘they don’t like it’ or feel that people ‘aren’t really that bad.’ Don’t believe me? It’s true. Most of the time it’s not a conscious thing. If you find yourself in this trap, then is the time to write a character fact sheet as mentioned above. You can the refer to it and say ‘Hey! She wouldn’t (or would!) do a thing like that!’ So just remember -

Characters have their own way of doing things - make sure they stick to them!

Too, fiction is not like real life in that fictional characters never do things outside their character profile. Whilst you, even though being a sober and reflective sort, may well take it into your head one day to run naked through the park, take up skysurfing or climb El Capitan, your sober, reflective character would never, ever do this. Your reader simply wouldn’t accept it. Fictional characters are dependable. They don’t have whims, caprices or fancies. They may be axe murderers, astronauts or detectives but they stay in character. Let  them run loose and you’ll lose credibility, the plot - and your reader’s interest.

If you would like to see a typical character fact sheet that you can copy or print off and use as you need, please click here.

Next we’ll take a look at plotting your story, which is a different thing to planning it. Just before you go, I want to ask you something. How much do you read? If you’re like me (a real bookworm) you may find that an e-book reader such as the one featured below is of great help - loads of books -especially the classics - are absolutely FREE and most are worth their weight in gold when it comes to understanding just how to write a great story! Remember - most writers are also avid readers! (and yes, I do have one and wouldn’t be without it!)

not all writing is fiction of course - indeed, factual books are big business. Fancy writing your own cookbook, for instance? Just click here for full details!

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