Characterization in My Writing

How I fell in love with these characters.

Megan Eisentraut

4/8/20241 min read

person using laptop
person using laptop

I still remember the day I realized how well I knew my characters. My friend asked me who out of all my characters was the most likely to eat pistachio ice cream, and a name immediately popped into my head. I knew exactly which character would do that. So, I pulled up a list of ridiculous superlatives and went through them. I was able to name a character for each one. I knew these characters.

My cousin and I create a family trivia game every summer. Last week while preparing for it, we were looking through old beach superlatives and quotes. She would read them and I would guess who it belonged to. I knew my family and got them all right.

As a writer, it is our job to know these characters so deeply that they're almost like family to us. We should know their hopes and fears. We should know their dreams and dreads. We should know them deeply. I have found that writing out a character's backstory like its own novella is helpful. Even if you write it out like you're plotting it in bullet points is helpful. Understanding someone's past helps us make decisions about their future. It is only when we know the traumas they've faced that we can truly build their dialogue, their internal monologues, and their decisions.

In the bible, Proverbs 21:2 says: "Every man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord knows the hearts." No one wakes up and thinks "I'm going to choose to be a terrible person today" and yet we all make decisions that hurt one another. Our characters are no different. Our history shapes our future. Only when we understand why a character would make a decision can we make sure they make a decision in character. Only then will we truly know which character would willingly choose pistachio ice cream.