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The surveillance effect

Are you watching your characters?

Imagine being in a room with a surveillance camera monitoring you. You’d be cautious about how you act, what you say, and how you express yourself.

That’s how your characters feel when you try to control them.

Censoring characters turns them flat.  

Perfect is imperfect

Your characters are people, just like you.

They have mannerisms, habits—both good and bad—favourite shows, pet peeves, annoying traits, flawed mentalities and everything in-between. 

Be careful not to get caught in the loop of creating the ‘perfect character’. What, truly, is a perfect character? It’s one who mirrors a real person, with all the imperfections. 

Let go of you

Although the inspiration for a character may come from within you, you should refrain from projecting your values and virtues onto them. 

Sometimes, you may find yourself wondering, ‘What would I do, if I were in the same situation as this character?’ It is not effective, however, to build your characters based on your personal bias and preferences all the time, because everyone is not like you.

Your character will have his or her own likes, dislikes and values. Let them spin in the opposite direction if it fits their personality.

Let them be themselves.

Let go of them

When you expose characters to the surveillance effect, you end up with one-dimensional beings, lacking the diversity and spice of the real world. 

Be bold and let them be themselves, even if they are evil. Evil people do exist. If they’re wild, let them be wild. Choose their traits and abide by them unapologetically.

Readers want relatable characters so don’t get too attached and try to protect them. When you do that, you hold them back. Allow them to express themselves and live their lives. See your characters as real people and not puppets under your control.

Don’t censor your characters either. Don’t be too careful about what they say, what they do, how they live, so that they are ideal but not real. If they swear, let them swear. Don’t hold back just because you don’t like profane words.


People don’t go through life acting like they are being watched.

So, your characters should not—except of course, if they are actually being monitored, for example, as part of a police investigation.

Compelling characters make memorable stories. 

Let them be real. Let them live!

‘A writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.’

Ernest Hemingway
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About Cynthia Nnadi

Cynthia Nnadi is a writer, editor and an undergraduate pharmacist in the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She writes speculative fiction, poetry and anything else that gives more understanding of the universe.


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