You're characters I mean. You hear them in your head, struggling to fully exist, but when you start writing them, something... something isn't translating correctly from your brain to the page. "What am I doing wrong?", you may ask yourself. You're trying to create characters that will reach out and touch the reader, but instead your beta-readers are telling you everyone seems the same. You desire so badly to breathe life into them, but all you're getting is the same ole, same ole. You crave to be like Dr. Frankenstein and create this living breathing "monster", electricity and all, but instead you end up with cardboard cutouts of the characters in your head.
How can we transfer those bolts of life into our creations? How can we, as writers, allow our characters to come to life in a way that readers can relate to? Well, luckily for you I have a system I believe will shock your characters into moving, breathing people. Today, I'm going to share this process with you.
Be forewarned that neither I nor any other writer will be able to simply dictate to you how to make a specific character leap from the page, but there are methods that can aid you in fleshing out your characters in a way that will promote their fictitious existence.
Now without further ado, here are My Top Four (4) Methods of Character Development.
1 - Character Profile
Generally, I start off with a character profile. What is a character profile? I'm glad you asked! A character profile is basically a list of all character's attributes that can be visualized. I start off with a character's full name (yes, middle name included), hair, skin color, place of birth, eye color, etc., list them all out. If you can do this -- create a full image of your character, flaws and all -- you can then write about them in a way that's consistent and cohesive.
Now what's interesting when you do this, is somewhere in that best selling story you're developing, that character's personal attributes come into play in a way that can actually surprise the writer.
For example, you're writing a murder mystery and the protagonist's friend (that you planned to have gruesomely murdered by the raging psychopath they're hunting) doesn't actually fit the killer's victim profile. Uh oh! Do you change the character or all of the victims? Do you instead have the character not die as a victim of the killer in the way you initially intended? Another example is you've envisioned a character to be short, but didn't consider that you wanted them to play basketball with the main character's love interest. How does this character you thought would be lazy and sullen, suddenly have the determination to be the school's top point guard?
How a character looks and any flaws you dream up can have a huge impact on your story. So, creating a detailed character profile is surprisingly very important.
2 - Character Biography
Does your raging alcoholic protagonist have a family? Is the character an only child or do they have siblings? Did they attend college or drop out of high school as a junior? All of these questions can have a huge impact on your character's life and how they interact with the world around them. What went wrong in that character's life that drove them to drink so heavily? An even better question would be what created that opening in your character's psyche that allowed for such a destructive dependency to exist? How does that character-crack exhibit itself in your story? You can answer all of you character's questions by developing a character biography.
I'm not suggesting you actually write a book about all of your characters, but it can be helpful to know some of the character's history and how that history impacts them and how they behave. Just jot down some important points for each character and see where that'll carry you. Trust me, you'll thank me later if you do.
3 - Interview
Your vampire antagonist walks in, sits and takes out a cigarette. Unlit, the cigarette lies between the character's fingers, pantomiming what the monster would think a human would do, but it's clear to anyone looking that they are not human.
"I've fed, so you have little to fear from me," she says, waving the dead white Marlboro as if it were lit. "So, what's the first question?"
You have your list of questions ready, but your mouth goes dry as the room gets cold.
Sounds like fun, huh? Well, that's exactly what I'm talking about! Create a list of questions and pose those questions to your characters to see how they'll respond. Make the questions interesting and thought-provoking. You want to force yourself to think of the character as a person (or person-ish in regard to that creepy vampire woman) with their own mind and thoughts outside of the story you're writing. With this, you can truly see what you're creating and shape the story with a real understanding of the people you've formed from the ether.
4 - Real life Analysis & Interpretation
Every once in awhile, a character you've developed turns out to be super similar to someone you know in real life. What I propose is this... interview that real-life person. Seriously, strike up conversation with that someone who has a strangely similar, but non-lawsuit likeness to an individual in your life who you just happened to want to make the worst character in your book. Instead of trying to imagine what they'll be like, find out what they're actually like! Sit down with your brother, co-worker, that guy who grunts and drops weights at the gym like they're on fire, or whoever happens to catch your fancy. If the person is famous, check out some of their interviews and take notes about their behavior and mannerisms. Sometimes, simply talking to a person and getting an insight into how they tick can make that character they're similar to way more interesting then they otherwise would be. Take a chance and see where it'll take you!
So there you have it, my four (4) methods of character development. Hopefully, you'll have as much success as I've had with developing those cool and interesting imaginary people readers will be talking about for years to come.
Many blessings! And remember, NO EXCUSES. JUST WRITE.