It’s Writing Tutorial Thursday. Today we’re talking about creating really awesome characters.
Writing Tutorial: Character Development
Disclaimer: The information presented herein is based on what I, personally, have learned in my educational and professional careers. This tutorial is simply meant to offer some helpful tips.
What keeps us coming back to a story? It’s probably not the creepy house in chapter three (even though it was a damn good description). It’s the characters. Your story wouldn’t be anything unless there was a protagonist to relate to, root for (sometimes against), commiserate with, and follow.
So what makes a good character? How do you make one “come alive?” Well, I’m here to help answer those questions.
1) Know your characters. This doesn’t just mean what they look like. You should have detailed back stories for your characters—even the minor players. Make sure they’re well-developed. Yes, describe that they’ve got hair the color of cornstalks waving in the fall sunlight, but also describe who they are as a person. What are their dreams? Beliefs? Likes? Dislikes? Family history? Quirks? Eccentricities? Mannerisms? Think about who you are. How would you describe yourself or someone you know? That’s how you should be describing your characters.
Note: Don’t forget about your secondary characters. Giving life to many “background characters” is just as important. They might not need as detailed of a back story as your protagonist’s, but their existence needs to be just as believable.
2) Don’t pile it on. Think about character development like a five course meal. You wouldn’t want to eat all courses within the first ten minutes. That’d be crazy. Similarly, you don’t want to bombard your readers with every detail about your character in the first chapter (or paragraph).
Instead, pepper (get it? I’m continuing the food metaphor.) details about your characters throughout your story. Perhaps in the first paragraph you open with basic physical features, but it is not until chapter two that you reveal what your main character does for a living.
You may even choose to point out details as they pertain to the plot. For instance, maybe your story is centered on familial betrayal, and it isn’t until chapter ten that you let your readers know how many secrets your main character keeps from her family!
3) Make your readers care. It’s one thing to make your characters sound out-of-this-world attractive; it’s an entirely other thing to make them relatable to your readers. Ask yourself the question: “Why should my reader care about my character?” What’s your character’s objective? How do they get to that goal/point?
That’s usually where conflict comes in. (After all, if your story hasn’t any sort of action, it’s about as interesting as a used piece of gum.) How do your characters face internal and external conflict? You need to show how they overcome struggles and challenges. This is important in not only helping your characters to grow, but also in furthering your plot.
4) Remember dialogue. I love writing dialogue, so of course I’d put it on the list. But it’s true that it’s also very helpful in character development. How does your character talk? What does he/she sound like? Practice writing out things they would say. Do they have an accent? Do they have poor grammar?
(For more about writing convincing dialogue, stay tuned for next week’s tutorial!)
5) Pay attention. The best advice I can offer is to think about a favorite character from a favorite book. Why do you like that character so much? Is it because of his/her personality? Pay close attention to how the author presented him/her. Read, read, read. Take notes.
Do you have any other suggestions? Questions? Let me know!
And don’t forget: practice!