As writers, one of the biggest things we struggle with when writing a story is creating memorable characters. When we are reading over our drafts, most of us see caricatures and cartoon like representations of people, not truly real persons. To be honest, it is very hard to convey realistic emotions in text, but with these helpful tips, you can make your cast more interesting and well-developed.
First, you need to identify real people that you interact with on a daily basis. These people will become the basis for your characters, helping you create the well-rounded personalities that you are looking for in your story. Think about the people that you know; friends, acquaintances, and family members. Free write about that person. Identify what their personality is like, what some of their pet peeves are, and what their hobbies/interests are. This will help you build a base for your manuscript. Here are some questions to help guide you through the free-writing process:
- What are this persons' interests/hobbies?
- What is their personality like?
- What are some of their biggest pet peeves?
- How do they interact with you when you have a conversation?
- What is their personal style like?
Once you have done little bit of writing about them, consider going out to a public place and observing strangers. This sounds weird and creepy, but many authors swear by it. It can give you an interesting perspective to people, motivations, and social interactions that you would not otherwise gain. All you need to do is go to your local coffee shop, park, or other public place. Bring a notepad or pen and your laptop. Take some notes on the social interactions that take place in this area. Once you feel that you have a wealth of good notes, bring this back with your to your brainstorming binder.
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Social Media Profiles
I have mentioned this technique before. This is a great way to outline the main attributes of the people in your story. On a blank piece of paper, create a fake Facebook or social media profile for your protagonist. Identify hobbies, personal information, and any other idea that you think will be useful in building their profile. Here are some suggestions:
- Full name
- Relationship Status
- Favorite movies, books, tv shows, and sports teams
- Status Updates (What would a status update look like from this person?)
- Conversations from person-to-person (Carry out a conversation between two or more people on their social media page)
- Profile Picture and Cover Photo
Details and Fun Facts
Think about some of the real details and attributes they may have. This is a little more in depth than the profile, and should give you a bigger picture look at the person you are writing about. You may write these on note cards, post-it notes, or create an outline on your own paper. Here are some suggested topics:
- Big Events
- What is in your pocket? (What are the things that they must have with them at all times?)
Creating collages and art pieces can be a fun and interesting way to get to know your character. Based on their social media profile and their details, cut out pictures and collect items from magazines and newspapers that you think they would like. Then, on a blank piece of paper, create a collage. Write out their name somewhere in the collage. Consider cutting out words and phrases to describe your protagonist and pasting these on top of your photos. Once you have completed your collage, take a few minutes to observe it. Close your eyes and imagine what your they looks like. What type of person would best be represented by this collage?
Now that you have identified some basic information, you need to plot out the main events in this person's life. On a blank sheet of paper, make a timeline. Go through the history of this person's life, from birth to present, and add dates and times for all major events that have happened. You may come back to this later as you continue the writing process and add to it. The important thing here is to develop a base of main events to start with.
After you make your character's timeline, consider making a family tree for your character. This might help you connect other characters in your story that you have already thought about. If you do not have a lot of family members in your story, you might want to create a character relation tree instead. Link together how each character is acquainted and what the relation might be.
After you have spent some time establishing who your character is, you will want to practice creating dialogue for that person. This will help set their tone and voice. Remember to keep it casual and natural. Imagine what they would do in a coffee shop, library, or park, and free-write a scene of dialogue in which they interact socially with others. Think back to your observations of real people for some inspiration with the dialogue. The purpose is to try and create a natural atmosphere in which your character can interact.
Wants and Needs
The last and most important thing about character development is identifying and establishing what are the wants and needs of your character. Think about what your character will want to accomplish by the end of your story. This will be the one thing that they want more than anything else, and this is the element which will be the driving force of your plot later on in your story. Once you have identified these things, post this somewhere in a safe place, so that you may always remember what is truly driving the plot of your story.
Developing meaningful and memorable characters is hard. What is most important for you as a writer is to feel that your characters thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions are genuine and do not feel forced and fake. These exercises will help you approach this matter in your manuscript and should give you plenty of good ideas. Once you have practice some of these exercises, see how your characters come out in your manuscript. You will be surprised at what an expert you will become. It will be like you have known them for years, and that is the thing that your readers will be looking for in your manuscript.