Within the last 2 years I’ve taken 5 different dance classes: Ballroom, Jazz, Ballet, Latin and Improvisation. Plus I intend to take more in the fall over at my college. Now I do these because dance is well-within the tolerance levels of my Fibromyalgia. Plus I learn so much more about “Core-Building”, fluid movements, music, etc. Plus, I enjoy trying all these different styles and seeing how they make me feel body-wise, emotionally and mentally. Quite frankly I find it all quite stimulating and refreshing.
Now what does all this have to do with bringing characters to life and making them feel more real? Simple. To me, a person’s life is the sum total of their experiences both good and bad. How we react, what choices we make, all of these things shape who we are and who we may yet become. So if a life is shaped by experiences and how they made you feel, how can your characters be any less human than you or me? But a character is a made up person with no real past or experiences, EXCEPT for the ones we as writers give them. In my case, I give some of my own personal life experiences to my various characters. For instance I’ve given the skill of Ballroom Dance to two of my characters. I gave them different levels of experience, one was a beginner the other was extremely advanced and taught others. Now, in no way am I an expert in Ballroom, BUT I knew people who were and was able to get some insights from them. I transferred SOME of these insights and experiences to the characters. You’ll note I said SOME of these insights and experiences. Because unless the main story revolves around Ballroom, why should I bore the reader with pages and pages about that kind of dance? I give the audience snippets of those insights and the joy and feeling of dance. Enough let them get more information about this character and what makes them happy and why.
But there are other life experiences I’ve drawn upon as well. But I’ve also given my characters experiences from the sad times in my life such as losing someone close to me. The pain, the feeling of being lost and confused by the experience of someone no longer being a part of your life. People can relate to all of this and can feel sorry for or commiserate with the character in these situations. It makes the reader feel more like the person they’re reading about is more human, like someone they know.
Hobbies or jobs are another way of making your creations seem more like real people. Their pet peeves at the job. Annoying co-workers, friends, what they do off the job together. All of these help make a character seem more like a real person. Draw from your own life, give bits of your feelings or experiences to your people to make them more than 2-dimensional caricatures from a comic strip. Remember, your characters are your children, shape them give them life and the audience will appreciate and love them as you do.