Learning how to develop characters is vital for any novelist. Well drawn, consistent, likable characters combined with a compelling plot engage the reader’s attention and keep her turning the pages.
While inspiration for characters can come from almost anywhere, the process of developing them takes some work.
Start by naming the person.
Think about whether they are your hero/heroine, villain or fill a supporting role in your story.
Then define what they look like. Don’t stop with height and weight but describe race, eye color, hair color, beard or mustache, tattoos, freckles, birthmarks, glasses or any other defining feature. Is the person graceful or clumsy? This is the time to go crazy on description. Write so that an artist could draw the person exactly as you are imagining them.
Do the same for personality. What does the character like, fear, and dream about. Include any mannerisms, strengths, weaknesses, flaws, religious and political beliefs. Are there issues that they care deeply about?
Write their personal history: basically a brief biography. Where did they go to school? Are they married? Even been married? Do they have children? What’s the relationship with their parents like? Did they have siblings? Describe some key events in their lives. Main characters need more backstory, supporting ones need less.
Think about how each of the characters will grow during the course of your novel. What lessons will they learn? Will their condition improve or worsen?
Keep all your notes about each character together in one place, so that you have it all well organized and ready to refer to as you write your novel.
All of these notes form the basis of who each of your characters are. As you write, you can develop each one more completely. The work you have done will help you keep each one consistent and acting in a believable manner.
Why are all the details all this important? The key here is consistency. You don’t want to have created a vegan tree hugger who halfway into the novel order fried eggs and ham for breakfast. This would only be believable if your novel showed the person moving away from her vegan beliefs, or wanting to break out of her routine.
You also want to make sure your details are correct. If a major character graduated from high school in 1992, you can’t have him winning a high school athletic trophy in 1994. If someone’s middle name is Sheryl, it needs to stay Sheryl every time the middle name comes up. Errors like this are irritating to the reader and detract from the story.
Watch out that you don’t create characters that conform to stereotypes. The dumb blond and silent cowboy have been done. Come up with something new and fresh.
When you write, of course, you won’t be repeating your descriptions. Show the reader the hot temper of your hero by the way he slams doors behind himself. Or let little bits of information out slowly, so the reader is gradually forming a picture of each character.
She stopped brushing her long, dishwater blond hair.
The sweat on the top of his bald head glistened in the afternoon sun.
Take some time to develop your characters before you start writing your novel. The characters you create will be more believable, and you won’t waste time having to check details about the person’s life or decide how they would act in certain situations. The notes you prepared as you worked on character development will provide most of the answers.
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