Paper Dolls

Nov 17, 2018 by Darrell Case
Remember when you, your sister or a friend played with paper dolls? Even though the dolls’ clothes would change depending on their activity, their expression always remained the same. They stayed happy, smiling no matter what. They were never worried, sad or fearful. They were fun and easy to play with. No sorrow affected them. No tragedy touched them. You could leave a paper doll for a day, a month or a year. When you returned to play with them again, they had the same expression. Sometimes we as writers have a problem creating believable characters. Despite our efforts, they will simply lie flat on the page like paper dolls, projecting no depth or relataible feelings.
A person’s childhood colors how they react to a situation. To bring a character to life, the writer must imagine their background, even if it’s not part of the story. Have past failures made the character reluctant to face making decisions? Do they ache for love, yet are fearful of rejection? Are they driven by a desire for wealth or power? How does that affect their family life? Are they addicted to drugs and longing to be free? Are they hiding something in their past, terrified the indiscretion will be exposed? Do they weep in the middle of the night when no one hears? If they’ve been fired, lost a child or gone through a divorce, do they respond with the same feelings and emotions that your next-door neighbor would? As you write, do their emotions touch you? Do tears come to your eyes as they weep at the casket of a loved one? Do you rejoice with them as they are united in marriage? When they face danger, does their fear make your stomach churn? Does your heart beat faster as you write an action scene? Do you experience the excitement of the chase and envision yourself in its midst? Are you the hunter or the hunted? Do
you lose track of time? Get lost in the story?
What about the villain? What kind of person are they and what made them that way? What’s behind their actions? Are they mentally unstable and if so, why? Can your reader loathe
yet also feel empathy for them? No one is born with hatred in their heart; something happened to make your villain this way. Discover what it is. Even the villain is human and has those who love
them.
If we as the authors don’t feel our characters’ emotions, neither will the reader. If your characters live and breathe, weep and laugh, both they and your novel will come alive.