Writer’s Desk: Listen to Your Characters

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng.jpg

There are a lot of writing books that tell you how to craft an exciting plot. They provide exercises, quizzes, little tricks to spur your creativity and come up with new and interesting wrinkles. Helpful tricks, of course. But no matter how thrilling or curiosity-spurring your plot, nobody will care if they do not care about your characters.

How do you get readers to invest in the fictional people you are writing about? Get to know them like you would real people in your life. Novelist Celeste Ng (Little Fires Everywhere) has some advice in The Writer:

I get to know my characters like you’d get to know someone at a cocktail party. You sit down with them and listen – whether they talk about work or their families or sports or politics, whether they seem open-minded or opinionated, whether they’re logical and articulate or rambling – and you get a sense of what’s important to them, who they are as a person. So I sit down and write about a character, or write in the character’s own voice and see what emerges. It’s a lot easier to bring characters to life on the page when you know them well…

Once you know how your character will act when they’re at a party, having a cocktail, watching the game, or who they voted for, you will be able to write anything about them and it will ring true.