Making Stories Come Alive

Our characters are more than just the creatures of our story world, they are the lens through which readers see into that world. It is possible to tell a story without using this lens, but the resulting story world can be gray and lifeless. Characters interacting with that world and each other give it color, make it seem more real.

I learned this the hard way.

I wanted the hero of More Deaths Than One to appear to be an insignificant little man though he was rich, had a couple of influential friends, and once had been a secret agent. Despite several rewritings, I could not make him come alive. He seemed dull and boring rather than the mysterious character I wanted him to be, and when the information about him unfolded during the course of the novel, it too was uninteresting. No matter what I did, I could not make him or his past three-dimensional.

In desperationfireworks, I created a love interest for him. (It seems like an obvious solution, but originally I wanted him to be a loner. Oddly, the love interest made him seem even more of a loner by comparison.) When I began to see him through her eyes and her amazement, all of a sudden he burst into full color.

Using one character’s viewpoint to show another character also allows us to be enigmatic when it comes to characterization. If we as the author/narrator were to describe a character as being kind, he must be so; if another character describes him as being kind, he might be kind, but he also might be kind only to her and mean to everyone else, or he might be abusive to her and she interprets it as being kind because she is not used to having anyone pay attention to her. While learning about him through her eyes, we also learn about her.

In this same way, when we see the story world as the character sees it rather than how we as the creator of the world envisioned it, the scenery comes alive. For example, here is a brief excerpt from A Spark of Heavenly Fire:

Kate jumped out of bed like a child on Christmas morning, ran to the window, and opened the drapes.

It looked as dim as dusk. The sunless sky embraced heavy dark clouds that hung so low she was sure she could reach out and touch them. The howling wind blew a few snowflakes around and rattled her leaky window. The icy draft made her shiver.

She laughed aloud.

What a lovely day!

In this way, we learn about the weather, we learn about the character, and we make the story world come alive for readers. We make readers a part of the story because they identify with the characters. They see the world through our characters’ eyes.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

2 Responses to “Making Stories Come Alive”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I find that my characters also come alive through their interaction with others and through learning about them and their backstory. With the titular character of Laura Horn, at first I had trouble getting into her head, but as I’ve continued writing, seeing her build relationships with other characters and shown her thoughts as she tackles problems, I’ve gotten to peel back a lot of layers and see the real girl within. I can’t wait for the next chapter where I show one of the most significant events in her life and how that’s affected her ever since. Then we’ll really know the shy girl I’ve named this novel after.

  2. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    Yes, give your character someone to love or to hate and see them come alive.

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