Best Writing Advice: Give Your Characters Life

Give your characters life when writing

By Sufia Aleia

For a story to exist, it must have characters. For characters to exist, they must be given life. After all, lifeless, inanimate objects can’t carry a narrative, can’t captivate a readership, can’t plunge a hand into a reader’s chest to take out their heart and examine it and say, Yes, I know you. I understand you.

Let your characters live out their lives in the nooks and crannies of your mind in which they were born. Let them exist the way real people do, for only real people tell stories.

And real people lead real lives, no matter in what fantastical world they live.

Give your characters homes in which to live. Give them events to experience. Let them love, especially. (Not just people, though that is very important. People need people.) Let them love and long for the little things, like watching children through a windowpane playing newly made-up games in the nearby park. Or let your characters notice the baristas at the local coffee shop they frequent to get work done, joke with each other and move around each other with well-learned ease.

Everyone, every real person with a beating, breathing heart, has felt some type of longing. I can tell you that with utmost certainty. Sometimes it’s for relatively attainable things, such as a pastry from that bakery near my house, or that new book that I’ve been wanting to read. Sometimes I long for the exact life my characters live, wishing that I could somehow leave this ordinary world where everything seems unbearably routine, to go to them. I dream of meeting these extraordinary people who live in my head and yet, who I’ve never truly met at all.

Then I hang out with people I love, and I remember that simple and menial tasks are somewhat of a requirement of humanity. So is love. And there’s no reason why these characters are exempt from it, for is that not how we prove our existence? By loving? By longing? By simply being?

Characters may be created in our minds, and their life forces may be tied to our imaginations, but that doesn’t detract from their realness or importance.

Just like any other art form, writing doesn’t have to be objectively good to mean something. As long as it finds someone, anyone, and touches their heart in ways that very few things can, it means everything.

Maybe I’m digging too deep into my little hideyhole of fantasy that I’ve grown up in, but characters are as real as we believe them to be, and if there’s anything I’ve ever believed in, it’s my own imagination.



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