Any writer will draw on emotion to help fuel a particular scene. Whether it be a happy memory or a sad one, we take what we can get. A writer needs to be able to connect with a reader, and to do that the reader needs to care about the characters. They need to feel real. So how do we do that? How do we make figments of our imagination into living, breathing people?
I don't think there is any wrong answer to that question. Every writer has a different process - a different way to bring their characters to life. For me...a lot of it is guesswork. Don't get me wrong, I don't just take a stab in the dark and hope I get it right. Instead, I think about it. A lot.
Usually I write from first POV and this makes the whole thing a lot easier. You only have one person to worry about; how they feel, how they react and how they perceive others. But when something happens to my MC (as, being a book, it inevitably does), I have to do a lot of thinking. In one of my books, my MC loses her father to cancer. I've never lost anyone close to me, save my Papa when I was a kidlet, but I was too young to either understand or properly process the emotion that goes hand in hand with death.
So I imagined how it would feel if it happened to me. And there we had it. I've had a few people shocked when they learned that I've never experienced real, life altering loss. They said the feelings I wrote about rang true. I couldn't decide whether or not to be happy about this. In a lot of ways I was over the moon I got the emotion so true to life, but at the same time I felt like a hack. I felt disrespectful and a fraud. But then again, if I only wrote about what I knew or have been through, there would barely be enough to fill a novella, let alone numerous books.
Last weekend I got some really bad news. I felt the cuts, the stinging realisation that pretty soon things are going to change and my family will be challenged in the way you naively think will happen in the future, not right now. Instead of letting myself wallow, I put the pain to productive use. I was writing a particularly emotional scene, and I like to think all my feelings helped bring the scene more to life. But, as I was pouring my pain onto the page, I couldn't help but wonder if this method-writing is healthy.
In my current WIP, there's a scene coming up that I'm dreading. My MC is going to go through an ordeal that I have personally gone through, and I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to handle it. Sure, a lot of people would say "don't do it then, it's your book, you make the rules". And that's true...to a certain point at least. But any writer worth their salt will tell you how amazing it is when a story takes on a life of their own, and plot point progress with very little effort involved. My story is headed in a dangerous direction, and if I quit or chicken out, then I couldn't call myself a writer.
The scene will bring back a lot of hurt, but I'm hoping it will be therapeutic. At the time, I didn't talk about what happened and chose to bury it deep inside me. The result is the consequences haunt me still, and have affected every relationship I have ever been in.
So maybe there is no sure fire way to bring your imaginary friends to life. Maybe its all trial and error. But the ever constant is this: no matter what you are writing, somewhere in there, at the very heart of it, is you. A little piece of your soul. Perhaps that is what brings them to life.