The other day I had a great conversation about character development. It really made me think about all the elements that go into a “good” character, and the phenomenon in which your characters are able to “write themselves.”
I find that this happens when I’ve taken the time to develop a characters voice. I know their reactions, thoughts and emotions all as they appears on the page, versus wondering, “What would Billy do in this situation?”
During our conversation, I mentioned that I like to know my characters as well as I would a close friend, and although not everyone likes going through intense planning before they write, I do spend a fair amount of time on creating my characters. I think about how they dress, how they speak, where they live, who they interact with on the daily and if they even like those people. I’ve gone to the lengths where I could even tell you what sort of song best suits their current mood, and why. However, I understand that this can seem a bit excessive and overwhelming…especially for people who just want to write.
Normally I plot out my story and then create basic character profiles.
These usually consist of the following:
After filling in these basic categories, I like to go into a little more detail. Sometimes I’ll expand upon the character’s appearance. Maybe they’re tall, with thick curly hair and brown skin? Maybe they have a birthmark on their right shoulder and a pierced brow? These are all things that I like to go back and expand on while I’m writing. However, what really pulls the character together for me is they way they speak and the little…quirks they have.
A good example is one of my female characters who tends to fidget while she’s thinking. This often happens while she’s listening to those around her. It can be a sign that she either doesn’t fully agree with what’s being said, or that she’s contemplating a decision.
Another example of this is how one of my male character’s rambles whenever he’s angry, upset or overwhelmed. He practically runs over himself while he speaks and can’t sit still. He will even pace and wave his arms around frantically, while going off about everything on is mind.
They may seem like little things, but as a reader, I always noticed these details about characters in the books I read. Just adding a little something extra to them, makes them feel more three dimensional and less forgettable.
For example, in the novel, The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan, the middle sister Marie picks at the skin on her thumb until it’s gone raw and does this often when she’s upset or thinking hard about something. This is such a clear image, and gives the reader more insight into her character. Honestly, there are so many fun and unique ways that you can develop a strong connection to your own characters (even the antagonists). For example, some people create character playlists or do character interviews! Another good way is to engage in the #WritersCommunity Main Character (MC) related questions. I find these fun, and there are many questions that others ask, that I never even thought of!
Something I love to do is draw my characters. That way I can try and capture what I’ve imagined about them into a series of images. No matter which way you choose to go about it, my advice is to have fun with it.
Our characters, although fictional, are like people, they’re not meant to be 100% perfect. They can have flaws, and quirks and embarrassing secrets. You may not include all of these things in your novel, but simply knowing them as the author can help you write a more realistic and relatable character for your audience.