Nikki Jefford requested a post on developing characters. There are many different approaches toward developing characters for a story. Last year I wrote a post on different ways to get to know your characters which might help anyone getting started. The techniques I included were the use of visual aids, character questionnaires and family trees. Each author needs to find the technique that works for them.
No matter what method an author chooses to adopt, there are a number of elements that are essential to include in the creation of every character:
The name: Many writers will start with a name and build on the character from there. I can easily spend hours searching for the right name. I’ll often look up a name’s meaning to give a subtle extra dimension. Back when I didn’t plan my stories, I changed a character’s name midway through the manuscript only to discover that the changed name also changed the character’s personality which in turn changed his role in the story. A name can reveal a lot about a person. For example, it can reveal their family’s country of origin.
The appearance: There are a lot of factors to consider for the appearance of a character: their height and build, how they project themselves, if they have any scars or tattoos, and so much more. A character’s appearance will reveal their origins, their education, even their frame of mind. These details, when offered in a sprinkling of information rather than a flood, can engage the reader and make the characters feel more real.
The motivation: The easiest way I get to know my characters is to find out what drives them. What are their passions, and what’s the reason behind their actions?
The use of language: The way a character speaks can be enormously revealing. For example: whether or not a character uses slang, expletives, a certain dialect, abbreviations. The character’s voice can make a reader love them or hate them.
The flaw: Every character must have flaws to make them more believable and well-rounded. The flaw will also give the main characters room for conflict and change through the storyline. You can find more on that subject in a previous post on The Character Arc.
The past: The past, our environment, and our experiences shape us. Because of this, many writers will build a thorough history for their characters to get to know them. While that history may not always end up in the pages of the novel, it’s good to know
The likeability: A main character in particular must be likeable for a reader to journey with them through a story. This doesn’t mean the character has to be nice all the time. We can like mean characters as long as they are interesting in some way.
Which elements of a character’s creation do you spend the most time on? What are the factors you like most about any given character?
I was recently tagged by Tiffany Garner. I am meant to post 10 random things about myself. Being the rebel that I am, I will post 1 random thing: I have been mobbed like a popular celebrity (or a strange curiosity) in a remote village in India. I took the photo I used for this post from a bus window. I boarded the bus to hide from this crowd because I was so different--white skin, blue eyes and glasses. (Probably a good thing I wasn't blonde as well).