An intriguing plot that piques the reader's interest and holds it might be at the top of the list for goals for writing good fiction. As important as plot looms in creating memorable fiction, characters that show emotion and carry out the plot may surpass it in importance. Now matter how good the story line, stiff and unfeeling characters will deflate a story faster than a pin pierces a balloon.
In the classic tale, Pinocchio, a woodcarver named Gepetto creates a puppet boy of wood. Gepetto's fondest wish is to turn his inanimate creation into a live boy who can love and cry and be a son to him. Pinocchio's adventures and misadventures fill the pages of this beloved children's story. We're writers, not woodcarvers. We don't want to create lifeless characters that might drag a story into oblivion.
We've all read work with charactes that move the reader from Point A to Point B, but if they are wooden and show no emotion, we quickly lose interest. Emotion drives us, identifies us and creates feelings of one kind or another for the characters in a story.
Readers want to feel the anger, sadness or fear in a character. More important than a physical description is to show what that character feels within. Show is the keyword here.
Consider the following two passages:
A. Jennifer felt angry
B. Jennifer stormed into the kitchen, picked up a bowl of gravy and threw it against the wall. Body shaking, she clenched her hands into fists and searched for another missile to hurl.
Passage A is short and tells what Jennifer felt while B shows it through her actions. The reader can relate to and feel the emotion in B. It not only shows the emotion, it creates emotion in the reader.
In Lois Lowery's Newberry Award novel, Number the Stars, a girl living in Nazi-occupied Denmark during WWII runs into two German soldiers on her way home from school. Ms. Lowery did not say "Annamarie was frightened by the soldiers." Instead she wrote the following passage:
Annamarie stared up. There were two of them. That meant two helmets, two sets of cold eyes staring at her, and four tall shiny boots planted firmly on the sidewalk, blocking her path to home. And it meant two rifles, gripped in the hands of the soldiers.
When a reader comes this passage, her heart might beat a little faster. She feels the same fear that Annamarie must be experiencing by seeing the soldiers through the child's eyes. Thanks to Ms. Lowery!
In Pinocchio, Carol Collodi brigns Gepetto to life through his words and actions. When Gepetto carves his wooden puppet, strange things begin to happen and we see his fear and frustration in the following passage:
...in a few minutes it had become an immense nose that seemed never to end. Poor Gepetto tired himself out with cutting it off... The mouth was not even completed when it began to laugh and deride him. 'Stop laughing I say' he roared in a deafening tone
In real life, we often hold back our emotions. When writing, we must learn to do exactly the opposite. If you want to create memorable characters that inspire deep feelings in the reader, release the passion in you and allow the emotion to rise to the top. It's the perfect place to give your own emotions the outlet you might not have in your everyday existence. Make your characters laugh and cry, shout and stomp.
Pinocchio spent an entire book trying to become a real boy. You can create a real person in a paragraph with the right words. Let yourself go. Who knows? It could be a lot of fun.5