Writing Secrets: The more “unreal” the character, the more realistic they should seem

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

The wonderful thing about writing is that you can show us our everyday lives, so that we recognise every detail of it, or you can make us believe in, even become intensely involved in, a world that is completely alien to us.

If you’re going to pull it off, though, all the aspects of your brave new world need to work as a coherent and logical whole. You need to employ the details which will make it real to us. All of its parts must interconnect.

More important than any of that is what I have recently come to believe to be a great truth: the more fantastical the world you create, the more attention you should pay to the beings who people it.

We had this discussion with one of our mentees the other day. Her creation is other-worldly – and immensely clever. Her story says something profound about humanity and the way we live. It fits together intricately and works in a most intellectually satisfying way.

Except that, emotionally, it didn’t entirely hold me. Her non-human characters, particularly, were there for a dramatic (and metaphorical) purpose, but were not yet rounded on the page. They came across as ciphers whom I couldn’t warm to. I found it difficult to follow their journeys and care about their travails.

With any story, we need a point of contact in order to care enough to turn the page.

It is true that people read differently. Some readers are entirely satisfied by the intellectual stimulation a book provides. I will unashamedly admit to needing an emotional connection, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Remember to feed the emotional needs of readers like me – who appreciate the intellectual stimulation, but need something more. No matter how complex the world you create, the beings who inhabit it need more loving attention than you would lavish on conventional characters.  They need to be developed and given “human” characteristics – flaws, vulnerabilities, loves and dislikes.

They need to be more fully fashioned than any human characters, if we are to form a connection with them.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: Four thoughts on writing, reading and books

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