Character Ghosts

This week, I’ve been talking about characterization – or story people. How do we, as writers, make them come alive? What makes us as readers love them, or hate them, or want to meet them for coffee?

Margaret Coel, author of the Wind River series of mysteries, gave an excellent presentation this past weekend at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference in Santa Fe. I’ve been condensing some of her thoughts and today, the topic is Character GHOSTS.

We all have ghosts. Sometimes we call them ‘baggage.’ These ghosts are our failures, our negative experiences. Your characters has to have had some of these. That’s what helps the reader to relate to the character. These story people are not perfect, and they’ve had negative experiences just as you have, and as your readers have had.

How often do you think about the things at which you have failed? For me, it’s things like (spilling my guts here) the social club that didn’t invite me to join in high school, that driver’s test I failed at 16, a boyfriend I lost to another woman, a job I didn’t get, an award I didn’t win — etc., etc. What’s on your list?

Anyway, all of those failures have been influences in my life. They have influenced my response anytime a similar situation rolls around. They have thickened my skin, and they have made me more empathetic toward others who are experiencing similar failures. You don’t have to spill your characters guts in the story like I just did. But you, as the parent of that story person, need to know what has happened to them because each of these events influences their behavior.

Often, the event has so much influence it has become a ‘weakness’ for the character. And that weakness plays into your storyline and becomes something the character must overcome.

The most successful stories are all about growth. The character has a want (see yesterday’s post) and it may be the result of a ‘ghost’ in their life. As your story proceeds, they work to attain something or to overcome something. At the end of the story, they are a much different person. Hopefully, their ghost has been expelled from their life – or at least taken a much smaller role.

In my book, Cobwebs – A Suspense Novel, the main character has a fear of spiders. I won’t tell you how she came to have that fear, but it is definitely a ghost in her life, just as it is a ghost in mine.

Tomorrow, the final post on Story People. Hope you’ll stop back by. And please comment!

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