The characters I create for my stories get into my head and speak to me. They come alive and become real people. I speak about my characters as if they are real people. This is something my husband doesn’t understand. He always tells me, “You do realize those people aren’t real, don’t you?” But to me, they are real. I’ve made them real, and they have become living, breathing beings.
When I write, my characters tend to take over. I have a plan for them and a direction I’d like them to go, but they often follow their own path. And sometimes, it’s not the path I planned. I go with the flow though and let them take the lead. This strategy doesn’t work unless you know your characters well and can dig deep inside their heads.
I’m a firm believer that characters can either make or break a story. A story may have a great plot, incredible writing, and interesting twists and turns, but if the characters are flat or underdeveloped, the story won’t draw me in. Characters have to be real, human – people I want to befriend and root for (or punch in the face). I need to feel like I know them on a personal level. If they don’t feel real, I could care less what happens to them, good or bad.
There are certain things to consider when creating characters. Here are some questions to ask which will help you gain a deeper understanding of your characters. The more you know about them, the easier it is to get inside their heads and let them take the reins.
Where does your character live? What kind of family life does he have? What was his childhood like? Who are his parents? Does he have any siblings? What does he do for a living? What kind of skills and talents does he have? What is his educational background?
All of this information shapes the kind of person he is, which brings us to our next section.
What are his strengths? What are his weaknesses? What unique personality quirks does he have? Is he social or more reserved? How would he walk into a room? Would he make a big production out of a situation or keep it under wraps? Is he a generous person who gives freely or is he more focused on himself? Is he self-motivated or does he require a little push? Does he easily get upset or is he more laid back?
These questions can help decide his motivation and determine how he might respond in certain situations, which is important to consider when creating believable characters.
Habits and Expressions
This next section could go under characteristics, but I’m writing it separately simply because habits can affect a person’s demeanor. Some habits can even leave a good or bad impression. So consider the following when you develop your characters:
Does he walk a certain way? Does he lean on things? Does he chew gum or bite his fingernails? Is he a coffee drinker? A smoker? A drinker? How does he handle money? What does an ordinary day look like for him? Is he always on the go, or does he stop to smell the roses once in a while? Does he tap his pencil, roll his eyes, cross his legs, pace the floor? Does he display certain facial expressions or pose with certain postures? Is he fidgety? How does he handle uncomfortable situations?
Outlook and Attitude
How would this character describe himself? What does he believe in? What haunts him? What are his biggest fears? What are his plans for the future? Does he have a positive attitude or a negative attitude? What motivates him? What are his pet peeves? What makes him angry? What makes him sad? How does he react when he’s angry? What does he do when he’s upset? What is something he would risk his life for?
Interests and Favorite Things
What does this character like to do? What are his favorite books and movies? What kind of music does he listen to? What is his favorite meal? Does he have certain political or religious beliefs? What kind of car does he drive? What does his house or apartment look like? What would his dream vacation be? What is the best gift he could receive?
What is his height, weight, posture? What kind of physique does he have? What color are his eyes, hair, skin? Does he cut his hair a certain way? Does he wear glasses or have facial hair? Any significant scars or tattoos? What kind of clothes does he wear?
Each character in your story needs to have his or own own unique qualities. Even if your readers never know any of this information, you do, and knowing this will bring your characters to life and make them more real.