Everybody will develop characters differently. Some start with a name, or a trait, or in my case, a reaction to a certain situation. From that first inkling we build a whole life.
And as you can imagine, there are lots of tricks to help dive deeper into a character. This blog aims to list a few methods, so if you have trouble developing characters, there may be a trick in here that helps you along.
Writers who prefer a systematic approach may be fond of creating character sheets. They can use those provided by Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, or find other alternatives online, like a resume, or custom-made sheets to fill out for all of your (important) characters.
This method focuses mostly on numbers and facts. Knowing what your character does for a living is a fundamental part of who they are and tells a lot about what their interests are in life. Other details like what their favorite flower is may only be useful for a certain scene or not matter at all; there is a high probability that this method may take more time than required!
Writing is glorious, as we all know. But there is some truth when people say a picture says more than a thousand words. For this and many other reasons, some writers like to have concept art of their characters. It helps visualize situations and makes them seem more alive. Some writers make that art themselves, like Pine, while others like me have friends help out. Having an image of your main character looking fierce or shy or happy may just inspire you to develop them further in your subconsciousness.
Other writers use a different form of art; mood boards. Pinterest is a wealth of pictures and inspiration on that account. Some may help build an image of your character’s usual hair style, or clothes, make-up, weapons, colors they prefer, their house, accessories, whatever helps you develop your character.
Another form of this is to create a playlist based off your character. What kind of tunes would they like? Which songs embody how they feel?
An interview means you literally ask your character all about them.
Filling out a questionnaire or non-scientific personality test for your character might help you get into their headspace. It also helps you differentiate between characters and what they feel is important in life. Another great way to get to the core of your character is to have them answer job interview questions. If you’re looking for less serious ways to get to know your character, which is also very important as it builds a core perceptive of who your character is, is to fill out quizzes that guess how their perfect library would look, what type of hamburger they are and what their dragonborn name would be.
Character interviews may be interesting as well. In those, you as the writer interview your character. Adding props can really add to the overall vibe and help get in the character’s headspace. Create a list of things you want to ask about, and be sure to ask follow-up questions when your character isn’t that forthcoming with their answers. The way they answer a question can tell a lot about their personality and communication skills, as well.
Behind the scenes writing
Especially pantsers and plansters will feel right at home with this technique; write the behind the scenes that don’t make it to your book. Have your character sit at breakfast with their family and write out that interaction. Or describe them grabbing a beer after work. How would they resolve a dispute with their landlord? Or kids shouting in front of their window on a Sunday morning?
Select the character(s) you want to examine and write a short sketch of a scene where they’re outside of their usual setting. If you have trouble seeing your character disconnected from their home worlds, using a writing prompt may help. Writing a ridiculous out-of-world scene can help you understand why your character responds the way they do. (Who knows, it may just be the first fanfiction written based on your book!)
Whether you create a character to fulfill a purpose or adapt the plot to fit the character in, getting to know them is important. If you also want to get to know Pine and Saskia better, follow us on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.