Sometimes we get so excited by an idea or in such a hurry to finish that we go too fast and don't spend enough time delving into the characters. I've certainly been guilty of this. But knowing the intimate details of your characters gives you the power to portray them accurately for your readers. And there's nothing more satisfying in a story then a fully developed character.
Let's start with basic personal details. Creating a character profile can help, especially with background and family information. For instance, you might list his or her name, date of birth, height, weight, eye and hair color, hometown, current residence, parents, siblings, marital status, children, occupation, religion, hobbies, interests, activities.
Then you can get even more specific. What car does she drive? (Or does she drive at all?) Who are her friends? Neighbors? Does she live in a house or apartment? How far does she go to work and how does she get there? Does she like her job? What about her coworkers? What does she eat for breakfast? Does she have time to eat before leaving the house or does she scarf it down en route? What's her favorite dessert? What does her living space look like? How does she dress?
If you're so inclined, you may want to make a form with basic questions like these. Each time you start a new story, fill it out for the new characters. At the very least, answer some of these questions in your head.
After you get a handle on the character's personality, dig deeper. Let's take the mother from last week's character perspective article as an example. You'll remember that her daughter attempted suicide. As the writer, what should you know about the mother?
Start by asking questions related to the story:
How close is she to her daughter? Is the attempted suicide a complete shock or did she see it coming? Does she like her daughter (like and love are not necessarily the same)? Do they have a lot in common? Do they communicate? What are her plans and desires for her daughter? Do they clash with what her daughter wants? What is her relationship with her husband? Who are her parents? What was her growing-up experience like? Would she be able to relate to her daughter's feelings in this instance?
How about interviewing your characters? It may sound strange but I've found this to be an effective way to learn how they feel about what's happening in the story. Going back to the mother from the suicide attempt story, you might ask her some of the questions listed in the previous paragraph. For example, How do you feel about your daughter's attempted suicide? Did you worry about her? Did anyone else ever tell you they were worried about her? What will you do now?
I know, I know. It seems ridiculous. This is not a real person blah blah blah. But when you read, don't you forget that the characters are not real people? I do. To some extent, when you're the writer you must forget that too. So trust me on this. At first, you will feel silly. But as you go, the character will start talking because you're thinking like that person. And that's when characters really come to life.
So take some time out from the story and ask questions about your characters. Find out who they are and what they're doing in the story. Learn details about their background and day-to-day life. Even interview them to get to the emotions and opinions that will make them real to your readers. Whatever methods work for you, do take the time to get to know your characters.
1) Take one character from a story in-progress and create a profile based on the elements and questions in this article and any others you think of. Alternatively, make up a new character and create a profile for him or her. 2) Interview this same character, asking questions that will help you know how they feel about the conflicts or people involved in the story. Your goal: To learn more about the characters than the actual story may reveal. Ultimately, you want to know more than you'll ever tell in the story.