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What is a character?

2 min read

Orson Scott Card wrote in Characters & Viewpoint that characters are people. Human beings. Whole and alive, believable, and worth caring about.

Like I said last week, storytelling is not just about narrating a string of events without a purpose. It’s about what happens, to whom, the struggle to achieve a goal, and a final change at the end.

Characters are our “to whom”. And even if your protagonist is not initially a person nor alive (they can be a city, an animal, a ghost), you make them look human in your writing. You want to make them living, whole, believable, and worth caring about.

The character is the soul of your work. You can’t tell a story without saying whom the story is about. I mean, you can, but it won’t do any good. That’s simply because we’re humans and we need to find real—or at least believable—characters in a story to relate to, to remember them, to judge them, to understand them, to learn from them, to create empathy, to enjoy their journey.

I believe that that’s why a lot of authors humanized things and places, too. Or why so many fairy tales have anthropomorphic animals as characters. Animals who talk and think and feel like human beings.

I’ve seen a lot of writers building a whole profile of their characters. If you want to do that, you write down names, a motive, info about their past, their personality, reputation, stereotype, habits and patterns, talents and abilities, tastes and preferences, a body.

But nothing will matter if you don’t create a connection between your character and your reader. So, I guess that this could define character better and wrap up our post today…

Remember that song? Contact, by Phish? “The tires are the things on your car / That make contact with the road / The car is the thing on the road / That takes you back to your abode”?

Don’t mind it if you don’t. I’m just borrowing the lyrics to tell you my definition of a character: Characters are things in your story that make contact with the reader, the reader is the thing in your mind that helps you create a good story.

I know it doesn’t rhyme but it’s pretty much what I think it’s most accurate. So, the main takeaway here is that we should care less about building a profile of our characters and focus on creating characters that connect our readers to our story.


Between the lines…

What’s a character for you? And have you ever read a story where the character was a place?

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