There’s also no better way to get your audience to buy into your story person than to see him or her through another story person’s eyes.
No story person should exist in isolation. Even someone marooned on a desert island has memories and a family. It was a masterful stroke of storytelling genius that had Cast Away’s scriptwriters use a volleyball washed up on the beach with Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks) as a character. Chuck projects an alter-ego onto the volleyball, forming a stormy love-hate relationship between Chuck and “Wilson,” even to the point that Chuck’s willing to risk his life in the open ocean to rescue Wilson from “drowning.”
Whether we like it or not, we form opinions about people all the time, from initial impression to on-going relationships. The impact of any real person you can think of operates through the sieve of opinions, preferences and motives that you carry around inside of you. Not only does this mean that personality arises out of perception, but also that no two people see someone the same way.
For instance, from Mark’s perspective, Jane is an attractive potential new girlfriend. Jane may be someone who’s vain and scheming as far as Mark’s current girlfriend is concerned. Edna, an elderly woman, may see Jane as a daughter-figure, someone she can confide in and find companionship with. Father Mulcahy, the local priest, may see her as a symbol of forbidden pleasure.
Be prepared to play with this idea if you experience difficulty writing a scene. Writing it again through the eyes of each of the different persons will help to unearth nuances and gems of personality.
Each person in a scene should have a personal script that he or she is playing to, even if that agenda isn’t expressed in their conversation. This means that you need to know each story person’s motivations, preferences and opinions.
How can you know so much about each of your story people?
Build a Story Person Bio
The best way of getting to know your story people is to keep a bio. This is a document or file listing the person’s traits and appearance. It can be as much or as little as you want, but the more detailed it is the more useful it will prove to be.
One of the best references for this is Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon. This book contains an extensive character questionnaire, ranging from every detail of the person’s appearance to sexual tastes and personal dislikes. The book acts as a sort of dictionary with thousands of terms or descriptions for each particular subject, enabling you to flesh out and create realistic story people.
When you know as much as you possibly can about them, you’ll write the actions and words of your story people with spontaneity and confidence – which is what you need to do if you want your story to come to life.
Let the Story People Speak for Themselves
As obvious as this may seem, it’s vital. Never try to tell your readers the impression a person creates in another person’s mind.
As soon as Dave saw Marge, he thought she was some kind of pagan she-devil or something. His first thought was to make sure he avoided her at all costs.
It would be better to say:
As Marge marched up to Dave, her masculine gait said as much as her thick, black, stringy hair, the unwashed jeans and her black T-shirt bearing the message, “Life’s a bitch, then you die.”
Immediately, you know who Marge is. Can you picture her? Can you imagine what sort of music she likes or what her favorite movies are likely to be? Even if your opinion differs from someone else’s, the second description paints a more effective picture for your audience.
Also, don’t be afraid to give the story person enough rope to hang him or herself. Rather than telling your audience that Mrs. Jenkins is well known as a gossip, give the reader a scene showing her gossiping.
Finally, writing a story can be a lengthy and demanding process. Your first draft will rarely be your best work, but it’ll be the raw material from which you’ll carve your masterpiece.
Just like you, your story people will take time to grow and develop and become themselves. Most of all, relax and enjoy the process.
Quentin Jendrzewski enjoys science fiction and has been writing for the last fifteen years, with several published articles and short stories. His Christian beliefs underpin his literary ambitions. His pastimes include movies, reading, kickboxing and church-life.