Presenting characters an audience will care about demands that you write passionately and authentically, without the glossy veneer of everyday life and its excuses in order to reach the audience at an emotional or heart level. The reader needs to care about the character by the end of the first paragraph. With short stories, there is not the luxury of lengthy flashbacks or introductory chapters. A character with a conflict of passions will remain memorable and seize the audiences imagination quicker than anything else.
Short story characters can’t afford to be cardboard cut outs or rely on cliche. Passion for something, whether it’s love, hate, or fear of an obsession must drive their decisions, actions and words. It’s generally accepted that a short story will accommodate up to three characters, though these can include inanimate objects. If your story needs any more to get the message across, it’s either destined to be a longer, more involved piece of prose possibly not suited to flash fiction, or your characters need to be pulled into line and the superfluous ones told to sit on the bench.
Be curious about your characters. Question each, demanding their justification in keeping them in the text. Discover what motivates and inspires them.
- Why are you in this story?
- What is your outcome for the end of the story?
- How do you relate to the other characters?
Decide if this character assists or detracts from the storyline. It’s here where you will need to choose if this character is better off sitting in the ‘green room’ destined to star in another story, or if another aspect of their personality needs to be explored in order for them to be included in the tale.
Some tips when developing your characters with passion:
- Create characters from within rather than a physical description. Although outward characteristics are important, don’t neglect to explore your character’s motives and goals. By knowing your character from the inside and writing from that space, you will create a more believable character readers can connect with, without running into the dangerous grounds of being predictable, formulaic and clichéd.
- Create characters you care about – simply for the reason that if you don’t care for them, then it will be doubtful that others will either. Explore characters who intrigue or engage your emotions, those who make you laugh or weep, those who make you go to uncomfortable places and those you are truly interested in. Characters who feel real to you will also flesh out dimensionally to your readers.
- Turn off your inner censor as you write. Find the courage to write freely, honestly and breathe emotion into your words. Julia Camerons “The Artists Way” is an excellent resource and self-paced course to undertake if you are having blockages with this area. You are serving no one by playing and writing small. Shine your creative light, if not to guide the way for yourself – but to pave the way for others.
- Allow your characters to live their own lives – without you directing every step. They will surprise and delight you with their discoveries, conversations and secrets. Editors and readers alike are looking for unique characters who capture the attention, forcing the hand to continue to turn the pages, care about the events and hunger for the outcome. Uncomfortable and dangerous characters are equally valuable where they force you question, observe and reassess your own motives and actions.
Passion is about inspiration and being constantly curious. If your words and characters inspire and excite you, forcing you to wonder what will happen next, then its likely your audience will be drawn to them as well.