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Are your characters alive?

OK, writers, here’s a key question for you—are your characters alive? I’m not asking if you are writing about nonfictional characters. I’m asking if your readers can feel the life you breathed into your characters.

If you want your readers to keep turning pages, they need to be able to identify with your main characters in some way. The readers need to care about whether your characters live until the end of the book. It’s your job as the author to breathe life into your characters through your descriptions, but also through how well your characters interact with their environment. Physical descriptions of characters alone don’t bring life to your pages. In the long run, unless the information is somehow tied to the plot, most readers don’t care what color your character’s hair is. That information does not carry a reader’s attachment to a character throughout the book.

So how do you make characters come to life in a setting? Think about what makes you feel alive in a new setting. Think about walking into your kitchen close to time for a meal. What senses awaken in you? Do you smell the food cooking? Do you feel the heat from the oven or the steam from a boiling pot on the stove? Do you smile at the remembrance of a similar meal? Do you hear the metal spoons clanking against pans? Do you spot your favorite dessert on the counter?

What about the senses that become heightened during tense moments? Do you hear the grating change in a person’s voice? Can you see the shadows fall against the wall? Do you smell a foul or unusual odor? Do you feel something warm or thick on the door handle?

You process all of the information sent to your brain through your senses as you change settings. Your senses bring back memories of joy or alert you to danger and make you sense fear. These senses should all be alive in all of your key characters. When they change settings, let your readers know what your characters are seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling. You don’t have to have every sense mentioned in each scene, but if your characters walk through different settings without several senses being involved, your readers are going to have a hard time staying interested in their lives (your book). When you bring the senses into play for your characters, you are stirring up memories for your readers to relate to.

Let the readers smell the food cooking. Let the readers sense the fear with the noises and shadowy images. Let the readers hear the twigs snap and the leaves crunch as your characters hike their favorite trail. Breathe life into your characters through all five senses.

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