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What If One of Your Characters Is Not… um… Human?

by Rachel Hauck

We spent a lot of time around the hallowed halls of ACFW teaching the craft of writing. As we should. It’s our goal and our mission.

Character development is key to any good novel. Because after all, it’s people we care about. It’s people who tell stories.

I have a saying: Tell the story between the quotes. Meaning, let the characters speak and breathe and move.

By observing the characters, the reader begins to understand and know them. People watching is one of the greatest human pastimes. Eavesdropping just might be the other.

How many times has your opinion changed about someone after hearing him or her speak? A man in my church didn’t care much for me. Though I lead worship every Sunday, he just didn’t like me much.

But when I preached one Sunday on a topic pertinent to his life, his opinion changed. But that was the Lord’s doing, not mine.

Yet it makes my point. When we get to the heart of a person, or a character, that’s when we really know them and love them.

When I brainstormed the idea of a hundred year old wedding dress being worn by four women over the century, I knew the dress had to become a character.

But how? Non-human characters can add a lot to the story if we do it well. Using an item like a book or chair as Jim Rubart did in Book of Days and The Chair impacts the story every bit as much as the protagonist.

With the wedding dress, I added the symbolism of the gospel. The dress, worn by four women at different times in history, never wore out, never changed, always fit and was always in style.

Here are some thing to consider when using an object as a character.

1. It must have meaning. A bride finding an old hat when she was looking for a wedding dress misses the point. The dress is the item of her heart.

2. The item must impact the protagonist in a profound way. If he finds a classic car he’d been dreaming of owning since he was a kid, that’s a good story thread. But if he’d been on a journey to find his father and comes across the classic car he once owned, the car becomes a character and part of the protagonist journey.

3. The item must have a history. My dress, Jim’s book and chair had a history that impacted the protagonist’s story goal. Finding the item is the inciting incident. Discovering it’s meaning is key to the protagonist journey.

4. The item must impact the outcome of the story. In the end, the dress helped my protagonist Charlotte discover her true identity.

5. The item but be relatable. Can the average man or women “get” the importance of an every day item with extraordinary meaning? A book. A wedding dress. A classic car. A chair. All of those are items that have value to almost every human being.


Award winning, best selling author Rachel Hauck lives in central Florida and writes from her tower overlooking the backyard. She is past president of ACFW and currently serves on the Advisory Board. Her next release is The Wedding Dress, April 2012.

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4 Responses to What If One of Your Characters Is Not… um… Human?

  1. Margaret says:

    This just reminded me of a story I read once that involved an heirloom of the protagonist’s deceased grandmother. In the end a whole family was brought back together because of this special treasure. I just never knew there could be so much thought process behind it. Thanks for sharing this! I will certainly refer back to this in my writing endeavors.

  2. Lisa Lickel says:

    Thanks, Rachel. That really hit me when a story I was working on came to life after an alpha reader and lately a couple of beta readers and critique partners mentioned the house seemed to be important. I realized the houses of the couple were characters and have to be treated as such, sacrifice and all.

  3. Mary F. Allen says:

    Terrific thought Rachel, this really inspires me to put together a story based on an object that becomes a character. I’ll be looking for your book.

  4. Rachel Hauck says:

    Hey you all, just saw your posts! Thanks for commenting. Good to hear this little blog-o helped!

    Rachel