Developing Characters

The art of developing a character in a story is difficult to learn. So many people rely on the early in the story information dump and never truly have a memorable character. Just how does one achieve this difficult task and still plot out a great book.

First, remember that a character is more than their physical looks. For instance, he was 6’3”, dark haired with a tanned complexion, and startling green eyes. His muscles had muscles. Okay, we have the typical romance hunk ready to have every female drooling over him. What makes our sassy, intelligent heroine fall for this guy? Does he love reading the classics or is the latest spy thriller more his style? He lives in a neighborhood of older women, most well past retirement age. Does he assist them with home repairs? Carry in their groceries? Mow their lawns and weed their flower beds? What about this man will attract an intelligent woman, beyond his looks.

The same can be said for women. Don’t give us a Barbie doll look alike. Tell us what motivates her. What are her dreams? Her desires? Her plans for the future?

Now that you have an idea how to expand y our characterization, don’t stop there. Talk about their future desires, even if that person is slated to die before the end of chapter one. Don’t give away your intentions. Make your reader love the character and mourn their loss. Instead of saying, Mrs. Smith knelt before her prize winning begonias, unaware that Death’s scythe was descending upon her neck, give us a tease. Tantalize us with Mrs. Smith’s desire to win first prize at the county fair for the fifteenth time in a row. Show us how she dreams of this while her gloved hands are working to mulch her beloved flowers. Insert tiny clues that things might not be as they should, but nothing that will give away a serial killer creeping up on her from behind, determined to make her victim number ten. Perhaps make Mrs. Smith someone he doesn’t necessarily wants to kill, as he admires her, but he must in order to bring his true victim into the public eye.

A good characterization of even minor characters can intensify the action of a story. Even a favorite pet must be drawn out in a way to engage the reader, make them love or hate the animal for its foibles. Don’t rely on the standard pets. An introverted computer nerd, the girl everyone loves to tease for her often greasy hair and pimply face might own an anaconda that shares all her secrets. The head cheerleader might have an iguana rather than a purse dog her persona would suggest is her pet.

What about the football hero? What does he love to do when he’s not winning games? Could it be that he spends hours with his lonely grandpa, talking about baseball games, or teaching his relative how to navigate the internet? Do they have a common interest in online games and play together? These things make our characters three dimensional rather than giving us their looks.

Does your character have a secret they don’t want anyone to know? Maybe a weakness they’re afraid everyone will laugh about if they discovered it. Make that a pivotal point, one where someone discovers it and perhaps threatens to tell. Let your character worry, wonder, drive themselves into an ice cream binge to forget that character X has the goods and will spill them at an important moment.

The characters in our books are real. Make them human. Give them dreams, fears, and an expectation of a future. Have them jump off the page and become people the world will love.


Cyn L. said…
Very helpful! Thanks, KC!