You’d probably agree that one of the biggest challenges in fiction writing is creating dynamic characters. Even with an original plotline and interesting conflicts, if your characters lack development, everything else will fall flat. It’s much easier to forgive a faulty plot with dynamic characters than flat characters within a fascinating story. You’re less likely to fall into this hole when you know who you’re writing.
Getting to know characters is much the same as making friends. How do make friends? By communicating. It’s similar with characters. You need to get them talking just like a real person. How do you do that? There are lots of tricks and techniques out there. Here are three that I’ve found helpful in creating dynamic, exciting characters.
Technique #1: Character Journals
Why It Works: Getting into a character’s head by speaking in his/her voice can help smoke out details you may not get otherwise.
How You Do It: Get started by summarizing the story from his/her viewpoint. You want to write how the character would write – not you. If you don’t have a story for this character yet, just start with things you already know. Roll with impulses and don’t fear rambling; rambling often leads to gems. Perservere when you feel like you’re getting nothing; if you keep writing, you will uncover minor and major details that may change everything.
Give It a Whirl: Spend a session writing a journal in the voice of the main character from your work-in-progress. Choose a part of his/her life you’d like to know more about. Start with something you know and work from there, or go with the first thing that comes to mind. Aim for at least two pages.
Technique #2: Interviewing Characters
Why It Works: Asking targeted questions can help you get behind a character’s actions to his/her motives.
How You Do It: You ask questions, your character answers. Like character journals, write the answers in the voice of your character. Answer honestly from his/her viewpoint, not your own. It may help to start with basic questions like age and birthplace and to move into questions that pinpoint a character’s feelings about an event or the motivations behind one of his/her actions.
Give It a Whirl: Pick one character you want to know more about. Brainstorm for a few minutes, listing all the questions you can think of to ask. Then, spend the rest of your session answering them. Aim for 10 questions.
Technique #3: Daydreaming
Why It Works: Much like freewriting or free associating, daydreaming about your characters and their lives may help you make new connections or expand on ones you’ve already made.
How You Do It: Just imagine your character(s) at home or work, at a party or off doing their favorite recreational sport. Picture him/her talking to another character. Let them live in your imagination and go about things as you think they would. There’s no paper commitment, so you can have them say and do all kinds of things that you might hesitate to put on the page. Let them act out of character just to see what happens.
Give It a Whirl: Choose one character to spend some time with and place them at a party, a typical day at work, or a night alone. What does your character do? How does he/she react to different people and situations? What does he/she wear or drink or think about? Play out these scenarios in your head, and put your epiphanies on paper.
What are your favorite character development techniques?
Illustration credit, Borqje