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Developing Characters

March 11, 2009

Have you ever come to the point in a story when you type/ write something and then immediately think “My character just said/ did what?” Perhaps you remember characters from books as fondly as you might do friends and wish you could form characters as well rounded and believable as this?

Character creation is something that involves a delicate balance, where the writer plants seeds of a concept, and suggestions or ideas of what they wish to portray the characters to be … and then allow those personalities to grow until they take on a life of their own.

Start with a form... and build from there

Start with a form... and build from there

Characters don’t appear from nowhere – at least they start as a blob with arms and legs that wander through your prose. Begin with the basics – a name, age and for most writers – a physical description. With someone you can picture or at least feel in your mind, giving them flesh and blood will then allow them to explore their surroundings. To make them truly live though, your character needs heart and soul, a backstory to motivate them through your plot.

Given a life of their own, they will say yes to things you would never do, eat, drink and pursue experiences you would never dare. You need to remember that you are not your character. You are merely a vessel through which your character communicates their thoughts and actions.

Some points to think about while you are developing your characters:

  1. Create characters from within rather than a physical description. Although outward characteristics are important, don’t neglect to explore your character’s motives and goals. By knowing your character from the inside and writing from that space, you will create a more believable character readers can connect with, without running into the dangerous grounds of being predictable, formulaic and clichéd.
  2. Create characters you care about – Simply for the reason that if you don’t care for them, then it will be doubtful that others will either. Explore characters who intrigue or engage your emotions, those who make you laugh or weep, those who make you go to uncomfortable places and those you are truly interested in. Characters who feel real to you, will also flesh out dimensionally to your readers.
  3. Turn off your inner censor as you write. Find the courage to write freely, honestly and breathe emotion into your words. Julia Camerons “The Artists Way” is an excellent resource and self paced course to undertake if you are having blockages with this area. You are serving no one by playing and writing small. Shine your creative light, if not to guide the way for yourself – but to pave the way for others.
  4. Allow your characters to live their own lives – without you directing every step. They will surprise and delight you with their discoveries, conversations and secrets. Editors and readers alike are looking for unique characters who capture the attention, forcing the hand to continue to turn the pages, care about the events and hunger for the outcome. Uncomfortable and dangerous characters are equally valuable where they force you question, observe and reassess your own motives and actions.

It is every writers dream that their readers identify with their characters. Find a character you care about and take the reader into their head, their world. Then sit back as a passenger, allow them to show you what happens next. You may just be delighted with the journey.

Note: I certainly know from first hand experience that the most surprising things are created when you allow the characters freedom – the collaborative writing project –  Captain Juan is such an example – where the characters have taken us places , none of us dreamed.

*clipart courtesty of  http://www.pleribus.com

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2 Comments
  1. March 11, 2009 10:50 am

    I knew my characters had taken on their own lives when, in the middle of an argument, one mentioned that she was the other’s long-estranged mother. I said “You could have told me!” She said it was none of my business. Can you believe the nerve of those people?

  2. March 17, 2009 12:20 am

    doon’t you love those bomb shells being dropping in the middle of a scene?

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