Strong character development can make the difference between a mediocre novel and a stellar one. It can be challenging to think of the details about each of our major and many, if not all, of our minor characters, but it’s an absolute must. Here are three tips for developing strong characters:
Define the details. Developing a well-defined character involves more than deciding on the name, age, sex, and occupation. Good characters are built on details. What does the character like to eat? Does he have a nervous habit? Does she walk with a limp? How does she wear her hair? Does he only wear Nikes? All of these details make the character realistic, someone the reader can maintain interest in over the length of the novel.
Look for models of behavior. If the characters’ traits are not coming to you easily, look to others for behaviors and habits that your character might engage in. Go to the mall or to a coffeehouse and observe people. Look at their interactions and discretely listen to their conversations. Take note of odd behavior or speech patterns. Any of the observations you make can be used to bring your characters to life.
Write a full biography. Writing a complete biography for each major character starting from birth to where the story begins ensures that you know the characters intimately. The better you know your characters the better you can convey their personalities to your readers. Minor characters also can be enhanced with a character sketch that gives them a basic background and motivations. The key elements to consider in a complete character sketch are:
Physical features: What is her skin color, hair color, height, weight, eye color? Does she have any unusual marks or features? Saying she reminded someone of Rihanna is not a good description.
Personality traits: Is he shy, outgoing, serious, funny, independent, or mean?
Preferences: What is the character’s favorite food, drink, place to live, vacation spot, animal, color, and jewelry? Why does she have these preferences?
Family history: Are his parents alive or dead? Are there any siblings? Is there extended family? What is his race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status?
Beliefs and hobbies: Is she religious? Is she interested in politics? Does she like to see movies or does she prefer to read? Does she enjoy 5K races, play in a band, or believe in aliens?
Other details: Write down any other details that help fill out the character and helps the reader to understand him or her better. What do you like about the character? What do you dislike about him or her? Are you drawn to him or her? If so, why? If not, why not?
After you’ve made observations, spin all of this information together to develop distinct characters with unique voices. Take the time to flesh out the characters so that your readers care about what happens to them. You’ll honor your readers and your craft of writing by doing so.