How To Live Through Your Characters

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Written by JJ Barnes

The characters in your story are how your audience experiences your plot, so it’s essential they feel real. If you write characters that feel wooden or fake, your whole story will feel wooden and fake. A really good way to make sure you’re writing characters that feel real to your audience is to live through your characters, let them become part of you.

I’ll explain how to write characters by living through their experiences.

Using Your Pain To Live Through Your Characters

Almost all of us are in pain, to a greater or less extent. We carry that pain from our past and it shapes how we behave in the future. The same should be true of your characters.

For your story to be active and entertaining, you need to make sure your Protagonist is suffering for their goal. If they aren’t forced to overcome challenges and fight for what they want, your story will be boring and they’ll get what they want too easily. If it’s something they’re willing to suffer for, willing to experience pain and grief for, it proves to your audience that it really matters. The stakes are high, the story is entertaining.

How to live through your characters, The Table Read writing advice
Photo by Thiago Schlemper on

The pain you put your characters through needs to feel real, so access your own pain when you write it. Think of the times you’ve felt heartbreak or loss or fear and bleed that onto the page through your characters. If you hold those emotions on the surface as your write, feel the pain your characters are feeling, you’ll write real and living truth into them.

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Face Your Fears When You Live Through Your Characters

Put your characters in situation you yourself fear. Are you scared of confrontation? Make them fight. If public speaking or performance terrifies you, make them perform. If you’ve failed to stand up for yourself and always regretted it, relive it. Let them do it for you.

By facing your fears through your characters, they can experience all the same fears you have. You know how it feels to confront what they are faced with, you know how they will be feeling.

Do they fail, as you did? If they do, then you know those feelings too. You can relay exactly how it feels because you know. You can write that struggle because you’ve experienced that struggle. Guilt, shame, frustration. All emotions that are human and relatable and make your characters alive.

Do they succeed, where you didn’t? You’re immediately writing an aspirational character who has overcome their fears and fought for what they want. They’re motivated and strong and your audience will find strength from their accomplishment and root for them to achieve more.

The #1 Writing Tool

Speak With Your Characters

Your characters should not be a collection of carbon copies of you. You’re the writer, they’re unique and individual people. They’re views, experiences, and ways of communicating should all be distinct. So don’t try and make them speak exactly like you.

However. The way your characters speak should feel real. They might use different words or emphasize different things than you would naturally do, but their dialogue should still flow like human speech.

It’s very easy to write spoken word that looks beautiful, but when spoken, turns into a tongue twister. So speak with your characters. Say their dialogue out loud and see how it flows. If any part of it gets stuck and won’t naturally come out, change it.

Even if your audience doesn’t say the words out loud when they read, they will read it as if they are. If they’re stumbling over the spoken word, they’ll be booted out of your story and trying to decipher what they’re reading. If they’re outside your story, you’re more likely to lose them. You want your audience to be immersed in your story so it needs to flow naturally in their minds.

Give Them History

Remember that your characters lived before your story began. Whether they experienced good things or bad things, they’ve been shaped by those experiences.

Remember how things have shaped you. If your parents have a long term happy relationship, work out how that has impacted your own view of love. Feed that into a characters life and aspirations because that is natural and real.

Let your different life experiences find their way into different characters. Let them be shaped by your life, shaped by your feelings. Live with them. If you pour your life into those words, the people created by those words will feel real.

More From JJ Barnes:

I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.

You can find links to all my work and social media on my website:

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Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose

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