Developing a Character
I will often come to the end of a manuscript for my job as a freelance reader and realize that I know next to nothing about any of the characters. They will be so stale and boring that if they were real people, I would actively avoid them if I ever encountered them in public. In other words, figuring out a character’s full name, age, and occupation isn’t nearly enough. Fully developing a main character in a narrative is one of the most crucial components of storytelling. An audience will rarely connect or sympathize with a one-dimensional, static character. As a writer, you need to know exactly who your character is and to be able to convey this to the audience.
If you find that your characters are lacking depth or personality, simply give them a makeover by answering these (and more) questions below.
Describe their general appearance.
What is their hair color, eye color, height, weight, physique, posture, and attire? What is their race and/or ethnicity? Is the character put together or unkempt? Youthful or old looking? Do they have sex appeal? Do they have any ticks, mannerisms, or physically noticeable habits? Any other physically distinguishable traits?
Disposition and Personality
What is your character’s general disposition?
Do they tend to be calm or on edge? Content or glum? Sloppy or organized? Romantic or cynical? Confident or insecure? Are they goofy or serious? Introverted or Extroverted? The adjectives are endless. What are their likes and dislikes? What are their preferences?
Background and Beliefs
What was this character’s life like prior to the moment when they are introduced to the audience?
Where did they grow up? What was their childhood like? Who were their parents and what did they do? What was their family’s socioeconomic status? What education have they received? What year did they graduate high school? Did they go to college? Where? What was going on in the world when they were a kid, adolescent, young adult, etc.? What is their religion? What are their political beliefs?
Skills and Activities
What does your character do, and what are they able to do well?
What is their work life like? What do they do for leisure? What are their exercise, eating, and sleepting habits? Do they smoke? Drink? What languages do they speak? What are their vices, strengths, weaknesses? Do they have any special skills or talents?
What is the character seeking or trying to overcome?
Particularly for protagonists, your character will need a goal that they must be trying to reach. Their active attempts to reach their goal is called “the plot.” Whoa! See how they’re connected?!
Once you have established comprehensive profiles of your main characters, you can delve into writing, confident that your characters resemble real people to whom the audience can relate.
The next trick is exposing these characteristics without always explicitly stating them. It is always better to show than tell. Audiences like analyzing a character and getting to know them over the course of the story. Sloppy writers will offer too much expository dialogue that tells us what the character is like, rather than letting the audience figure it out for themselves.
Of course, many of the traits you assign the characters may never end up being revealed in the story, and that is fine. But the more depth you give a character, the more identifiable and relatable they are going to be.