One of the toughest challenges for a writer in my opinion has to do with creating characters that are unique, different and that will resonate with the reader.
I have completed two novels and I’m proud to say that my characters are all individually unique and equally compelling. I wish I could say that I have a system but I really don’t. For me the characters kind of evolve when I think of the idea for a new book. When I was working on The Shoebox, Peter and Maddy always existed in a way. However in The Eighth Summer the ensemble evolved over time. Now I have read many books and have been introduced to many characters but in all honesty, not all have been memorable. Not every character you find resonates or becomes alive in your mind. Some times I find a great character and then just when they are growing and changing, it all suddenly stops and becomes dull.
How can you keep that from happening?
Well for me, and that’s the only way I can answer is to keep them as real as they can be. Remember, you are creating a visual, unless you have a picture book, the reader has to build the person you are giving them. They will need all the right ingredients to create and give life to their character. You are God in the writing world. We are, lets face it. I know I am a bit of a control freak. Maybe all writers in a way are. I want to control my story because I’m the creator of it. So I am going to give as many hints, clues, descriptions, and emotions for each so that when my reader is sitting in their comfy chair with a cup of coffee or tea ready to be snatched inside my story, I need them to see a tangible character.
So lets say your starting. You have a plot line and a basic idea of what you want to write about but you just have a faceless character. Someone without a soul. That’s where you are about to breathe in life into this fictitious creation.
The way I begin is by asking a few questions that help me form my character. Here are a few questions that you can use to help you create a memorable character that your reader will be able to see, feel and hear.
l. After you have determined the sex of your character, think age? For this activity lets make it a woman. How old is she?
2. Height and weight and skin color, eye color, hair color . Be specific if there are any scars or identifiable markings or characteristics. Does she have an accent?
3. Where was she born?
4. Who were her parents?
5. Where does she currently live?
6. What is her favorite movie and book?
7. What does her voice sound like?
8. What is her deepest fear? Pet peeve?
9. What are some of her favorite things? To eat, do, go?
10. Married/single/ mother?
11. What is her motivation?
12. What is her inner conflict?
You get the idea?
By the time you have answered most of these questions in detail please, you will have a pretty good idea of who this woman is. Then you can add the character fill ins I like to call them.
Does she smoke?
Does she drink?
Does she say a particular word in a strange way? Like when I say TV I always for some reason stress the T before the V. When I sneeze I tend to actually say the word achoooo! I know, but that’s what happens. Ha ha. I was once in radio city music hall at a concert and in a moment of silence I sneezed. There were friends in the audience not sitting anywhere near me and knew immediately that I had been the one that had sneezed.
Think of things like that. Characteristics that make your character unique and familiar to your reader.
In my first novel, The Shoebox, my main character had a few things he would do when he was stressed or nervous. I added them to so many parts of my story in the beginning that once the reader is in the middle of the book and is reading any section where Peter is running his hands through his hair or pulling on his shirt collar they immediately know without even having to read further that our character is in a stressful situation. These mannerisms are key flags that allow your reader to identify and see the character more clearly. The goal is to create someone that is so visible in your writing that they then become a tangible person to your audience.
Try this exercise the next time your working on a new character. I promise it will help.