“When it’s possible to ‘think inside someone else’s head,’ we know we’ve succeeded in breathing life into a fictional person. Once this happens, we can stand back. The character can control his fate.”
“But like dreams, there’s an endless supply of characters waiting to be created and named.”
Characters are the heartbeat of truly memorable fiction, whether they appear in novels or short stories. How do you find that beating heart so you can reveal its inner music with your readers? Alice Hoffman, a widely admired novelist, shared some helpful advice:
Find “the story within the story” about your character — even though it may remain “deep” background that readers will never see. “A character’s interior trauma or past experience is the core around which everything else is built.” Create a rich back story for your character and it will enrich and enliven what your readers see on the page.
Give yourself permission to explore the characters you want to explore. As Alice puts it, “…if a writer knows the inner truth of an emotional experience, he can write about it in every setting. As fiction writers, we can be inside the experience of every situation and every character.”
Find your own method of character building. Alice, for example, begins creating her characters “from the inside out.” She doesn’t focus on their physical traits, but rather on their emotional life and psyche. “What does he fear? Does he run from lightning or rush toward it?”
Step your characters out into the world. One of the techniques that Alice finds useful when crafting a novel is to “live inside the characters — to take them with you into the outside world.” See how they would respond to and interpret an experience as it occurs in real time. Who knows what you might discover!
Let yourself go. Strive for the moment when you become so immersed in your character that you lose yourself. As Alice says so beautifully, “At times, during the process of writing, it’s possible to experience the disintegration of the self. This is the ecstasy of writing and of art, of losing oneself in the process of creation.” Write on!