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Bring Your Characters to Life

Updated: Sep 11, 2021


Character development is possibly the most complicated of skills for some writers.

However, do not fear. Armed with the three methods below (there are more to come in a future blog post) these ideas can produce a very solid start to a believable and relatable character.

Questionnaire

If you are looking for a reliable method to develop your characters and their behaviors, here it is. The questions apply to any character you create, whether protagonist, antagonist, or secondary ones. (Think Lord of the Rings and the multiple characters.) It can demonstrate the character’s present state, build/enrich a solid backstory, or show gestures and habits.

Start with:
  • your character’s name? Remember this may change as you go. My antagonist (a wizard) went through three name changes before the book’s end. His name didn’t feel ‘evil’ enough, so I modified it until satisfied. The point is, don’t wait to start writing until the names are perfect. If you do, you could be unintentionally setting a roadblock before you.

  • their gender?

  • their age?

  • their appearance? (Beware of getting carried away with this. Some readers enjoy every little detail, down to the heart-shaped mole on the character’s back, while others love to have just the basics and let their own mind formulate an image.) Use what works best for you. Experiment.

  • their general disposition? (Are they grumpy, crying at every opportunity, smiling often, or laughing at the smallest thing?)

  • where they live? (Foreign world? City? State? London, Isle of Man, Narnia, Rivendell….)

  • favorite or typical foods?

  • clothing style? (Bloomers, suspenders, chainmail, leather, denim, silk, etc… )

  • life experiences? Were they a nurse, military commander, an average teenaged kid, or leader of the Galactic Alliance!

  • have they experienced traumatic events? (Death of a family member, beloved animal, close friend, or their entire village. Have they survived war, terrible car accident, nearly drowned, terrible childhood, or….?)

  • was their once-perfect life (childhood) destroyed by the above mentioned traumatic event?

  • are they in love? With who? Gay, lesbian, fallen for a blue-skinned alien, a horn-headed Listros)

  • pets? (dogs, cats, goats, elephants, birds, hornwazzers, a three-toed blishma, or a dragon…)

  • any medical conditions? (asthma, epilepsy, or an invented one…)

  • hobbies? (axe throwing, needlepoint, crafts, and so on.)

  • friends? (describe them, as well.)

  • do they smoke, drink, or do drugs?

  • The list could be much longer, but this is a very good starting point. Plus, there’s more to come in a future blog. For now, read on.


One-Page Character Description

Taking one character at a time, write a ‘one-pager’ about them. The goal is to flesh them out. It’s about making them real.

  • Are they the villain? Will he/she be hated? Loved? Adored? Are they lonely? Angry? Any nicknames? Stumpy, genius, one-eye…

  • Did they somehow earn the name or does it reference their appearance or attitude? Does the name bother them or do they wear it with pride. Are they indifferent to it?

  • Choose a past event and expound on the details. For example, did your character survive an attempt on their life, but it left them scarred? (Emotionally and/or physically.) Do they walk with a limp because if it? Did it cause psychological issues? Do friends, family, strangers, treat them differently? (Think of Mad-Eye Moody from Harry Potter)

  • Personality traits can be important. Are they nervous, nail-biters, constantly grooming themselves, scared witless at the slightest sound, cowardly, brave, loud and boisterous, or silly.


Writing Interior Monologue
This is one of my favorite things to do. (Even though my son rolls his eyes at me and thinks I’m weird.)

Head for a public place to sit and observe people. Find one in particular, for whatever reason, and imagine details for them, using the questions you’ve learned earlier.

Guess their name, or give them one. What mood are they in? Do you think they are always that way? Are they shopping, eating, talking to themselves, staring off into the distance with a blank look? What are they wearing?

Now, the fun part! Get your pen and paper out. Start writing an interior monologue that reveals what they’re thinking. These are not YOUR thoughts, but what the other person is thinking and feeling.

Start by using first person (I/me) to show their thoughts. Then, craft the world around them.

Do they interact with their surroundings? What type of interactions? Smiling and nodding at people passing by, or never really seeing them at all. Are they alone? Impatient? Happy?
Test your skills by developing the story to make your character at odds with the world around them. Conversely, if they’re angry looking, make them happy and caring.

These exercises can go a long way to aiding development. Well-fleshed characters keep readers moving through your pages, allowing them to immerse themselves into the character(s) lives.

Readers hold genuine interest in their favorite hero/heroine. Will she win the boy’s love? Does the knight kill the dragon, spare him, or get eaten? Who was the real murderer? And so on!

Of course, there are a number of ways to form characters, but hopefully this brief article will come in handy for beginner writers, ones who are stuck, or provide fresh thoughts for experienced authors.

Never give up. Keep writing!

Peace!

Mark
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