We write that others may experience a new world, a new love, a new adventure, a loss, a discovery, a new friendship or a new enemy. But in order for our readers to connect to these experiences we must be able to create realistic, relatable, though not always loveable, characters.
Character, as defined by Webster’s New World Dictionary (1988), is;
1. a distinctive mark
2. a distinctive trait, quality, or attribute; characteristic
3. the pattern of behaviour or personality found in an individual or group; moral constitution
4. moral strength; self-discipline, fortitude, etc.
5. (a) reputation (b) good reputation
6. a statement about the behaviour , qualities of a person
7. status or position
8. genetics any attribute, as color, shape, etch caused in an individual by the action of one or more genes.
Looking over this definition I see plenty of practical tips and advice for writers. If fact, I think if you took out a piece of paper and wrote down everything that related to your character off of these eight things you would have a very good start to building your character. However, I would add the following items to this list:
1. Ticks – does you character have any little physical ticks they do? Do they chew on the end of a pencil when they are nervous? Do they hang up their clothes according to color? Do they separate their food on their plate?
2. Habits – does your character have a habit such as smoking, gambling, collecting bottle caps, bingeing on late night food? Swearing? Chewing tobacco/gum/erasers?
3. Speech – do they have an accent? speech impediment? mute?
5. Intelligence & Education
7. Passions/Pursuits/ Careers
8. Family & Family History
10. Health (physical/psychological)
12. Political, Social and Religious views
The list can be quite extensive. And the more you know about your character(s) the more vivid and realistic they can become for your readers. No, you won’t necessarily need to tell your reader that you character’s right foot, third toe is longer than all his other toes. Or that he is afraid of balloons. Nevertheless, having a detailed character will help you understand why your character does one thing and not another. It will provide you with motivation and inspiration as you write. Plus, if you have your character’s traits written down you can refer to it, as you write, to keep the facts straight throughout your story. You don’t want your dark-haired woman with green eyes who is left-handed in chapter 3 to be dark-haired with blue eyes and right-handed in chapter 15.
As you write your story you must also decide if your character is a static or dynamic character. Usually your main character(s) are dynamic. They start off one way, experience a crisis, endure trials and challenges and then by the end of the novel have changed in some way so they are no longer that same as they were at the beginning. Sometimes the change is good (as it was with the Grinch) and sometimes it is bad (as with Macbeth). Either way, your character changes. Static characters remain as they are from beginning to end. They are our supporting roles. They help to move the story along but do not alter in any significant way.
For those of you who like to write on the fly, may I suggest you have a notebook beside you as you work. As you introduce new characters and their traits to your reader, make a note of this in your notebook under a page with their name at the top of it. This way you can be free to write and yet have a cross-reference to refer to as you get deeper into your story.
For those of you who are planners, you can write out all the character traits, history, ticks and passions of your character in a notebook for references as you begin and continue to write.
Below is a link to an aid for developing Character.
Until Next Time!