One of the best things we can do for our readers is to have well developed characters. I don’t mean describe them from birth to the moment they appear on the page. I’m talking about three-dimensional characters, characters that leap off the page and dance around the room.
How do you do this?
Well, first you have to decide who your character is, what experiences they’ve had to bring them to this point, why they’re making the decisions they are. This means we need more than a physical description, and we don’t need that information dumped into a very long paragraph at the beginning of the book, which the reader will promptly forget once they make it to Chapter Two.
What is character development?
Your characters are like living human beings. They have lives—past, present, and hopefully, a future. Therefore, they will have lived. They will have ups and downs. They will have cheered and mourned. They will have broken bones, tripped over their own feet, and gotten drunk. Your characters are like the people around you and that is where you need to start.
Once you have your characters’ roles set and their names in place, take a trip to the local grocery store, the mall, even that big box store you hate. Become an observer. People watch. Make notes on both mundane and outrageous actions. Show interest in outrageous outfits—Will one of those fit one of your characters?
Now that you’ve got this information, begin to develop a life for your characters. Were they middle of the pack students, or did they stand out as honor roll or the dunce? Did your female lead fight to be part of the football team, because her daddy always let her play in the neighborhood games? Did the male lead go into music because of a love for it or because his mom forced piano lessons down his throat since he was three?
What kinds of hobbies do your characters have? What are their passions, their dislikes and likes both? Do they prefer jeans and a t-shirt or dressing to the nines? Are they a cat person, a dog lover, or do they hate animals?
Test yourself. How many attributes can you give a character? Even the guy who dies in Chapter Five needs to be well developed. Don’t hand out a major spoiler by only referring to him by his name and what’s he’s like in the here and now. Give him a life. Make him worth mourning. That little bit of importance can make or break your story.
Finally, once you have your character’s lives set, begin setting them into the action. But don’t make the mistake of dumping this information all at once. It’s only for background, to be used when necessary.