Your characters are real people. Sure, writers already know that, especially when we think of characters written by others who are as real to us as people standing next to us: Meggie (The Thorn Birds), Dana (Kindred), Augie (Wonder), etc., etc. But the basic insight of this notion is altered by a certain experience just a couple of days old: My tearful drive down a busy street.
How driving down the street near my main character’s home brought me to tears.
No kidding. The other day, I’d had some running about town to do, unremarkable stuff, just work and errands, which included driving through the neighborhood where my main character wound up moving for a lengthy period of her life. (Yes, my historical novel is set in my hometown.) I’ve traveled past that street and those homes before on many occasions over the years, even lived in the vicinity for a while, so it wasn’t at all a spectacular moment by any means.
Well, I didn’t drive down that particular street that day. I didn’t even get a glimpse of those houses. I was about a mile away from her community at the stop light at the major cross section. I looked at the street sign and was completely blindsided by this amazing wonder of feels that swept over me. I wept a little as the light turned green because I felt my main character’s PRESENCE.
I felt my main character’s PRESENCE.
I felt like she was down that street, in her home, doing her thing. Living with a capital “L”. Now, as I’ve written about her family and her in their general businesses of life, of course I’ve envisioned the mundane like shopping, taking a drive across the nearby bridge, or the neighboring grocery store, and relayed just enough bits and pieces to make them all human. However, the sensation she brought to me that afternoon was different. She simply somehow floated on down to the corner and thanked me for making her so authentic off the page. This way, she’ll be as viable to others as she’s been to me for soooooo many years. She knew it and that spark of time with her made me know it too. It was time she gave to me – away from my computer, without pen and paper, without staring into space listening and watching them from the ethers. I was on her turf and I felt so welcomed. It was what I needed to remind me that I’m sure as hell not wasting my time and that I haven’t been. I’ve got a story to tell and I’m freaking doing the job pretty well.
Louder in my mind: I have NOT been wasting my time writing…
Details are important for this reason. (Such a penchant can drive the folks in real-life around me insane on the non-fiction side.) They bring everything to the surface. Whatever your characters are feeling, seeing, tasting, smelling, and hearing brings the story to the reader’s senses. If they’re not in yours, they won’t make to the character, thus there’s nothing for a reader.
In this case, setting proves to be just as crucial. That street, the home down that street, and the corner and intersection weren’t simply areas where my character was placed to do things or a flat address she was given. Oh, no, not at all – she exists there.
The biggest reward from all of that: She could feel it too, thus letting me know that she is indeed – a real person. So, thanks, Mrs. F!
Writers: When did you realize your characters were actually real people?
Readers: Which fictitious characters feel like true, real-life, breathing people to you?
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