In J.K Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we meet Harry’s friend Rubeus Hagrid. Hagrid is a half-giant and half-human who is the gamekeeper and Keeper of Keys and Grounds of Hogwarts.
Hagrid is a fictional character made up of nothing more than a bunch of letters printed on a piece of white paper. So how are we able to think and talk about him as if he is a real living human being?
It’s all about magic—Rowling is an honorary wizard and her pencil a kind of wand. She describes Hagrid in great detail so we all know that he is eleven feet six inches tall, about twice that of the ordinary man and is very strong. We also know he has long shaggy black hair and a beard that covers most of his face. We’ve also been told that his hands are as big as dustbin lids and his feet in their boots are like baby dolphins. We also know that he often wore an exceptionally large moleskin overcoat with several pockets that held many different things, but Hagrid often seemed confused about which pocket held which thing.
So we know what Hagrid looks like, but that’s not the only thing we know about him, and that’s because Rowling has also used her magic pencil to tell us that Hagrid is loyal, friendly, softhearted and easily driven to tears. But, she also shows us Hagrid isn’t perfect and that he can become very angry whenever anyone insults a friend.
If you want the characters in your stories to become as real as Hagrid, you too must become a writing wizard. There are several ways for you to bring your characters to life and the more you use the more they will become real in your eyes and your readers.
First of all, you will need to be able describe your character just as Rowling did. A good way to begin is to make a list of things that make your character interesting and unique. Think about things like body type, clothes, posture, the color of the hair, eyes. Does your character have braces, freckles, glasses, or a NY Yankee baseball cap? Does he trip over his shoe laces, or bite his nails? Does he have catsup on his shirt? Think about specific features rather than general ones. To say your character is tall and skinny will not draw a very clear picture for your reader. Saying that he has to duck every time he walks into your house is a better way to describe “tall.” Saying “when he turns sideways he is almost invisible” certainly indicates that your character is very thin. Also remember the list you have made is for you to use. Do not describe your characters by starting with a long list of things like hair color, eye color, etc. Lists are boring. Instead, insert your descriptions into your story in small amounts where they fit. Look at the following samples:
Sarah’s eyes sparkled with the same blue as the sky.
Robert bent down to tie his shoe lace for the fourth time since they’d left school.
Again, you might want to make a list of things that make up your character’s personality. Is she always happy? Is she a bully? Does she have a nervous laugh? It is often best to show personality traits rather than just telling the reader. Remember the first rule of good writing is “Show Don’t Tell!” See the following examples:
Rebecca’s face reddened, and then she crumpled the piece of paper and threw it back at Jim. “That’s a mean thing to say!” she said, storming off to her next class. We all understand that Rebecca is pretty angry without your telling us that.
Be careful about naming different characters with similar names. Try not to have names that begin with the same letter. Having both a Marvin and a Martin in your story can become confusing for your reader. You also should be careful with very strange or unusual names that your reader may not know how to pronounce, like Tsinamdzghvrishvili. Picking names at random is fine, but you may want names that tell something about each character, such as ancestry, the country or neighborhood in which they grew up (Sean, Carlos, and Aki) or what their personality is. The author, Charles Dickens, named his character Scrooge to let his readers know that this was a stingy, selfish, cheap old man.
Other Things to Think About
The more complex your character is, the more he or she becomes “real.” Heroes can make mistakes or have problems (remember Hagrid can get really angry) and villains can sometimes do good things. So as your magic begins to create more and more fictional characters, you might want to make more lists of things like your character’s likes vs. dislikes, strengths vs. weaknesses, goals vs. problems, etc.
Try some of these ideas in your next story and send it into Magic Dragon who loves reading stories with interesting characters.