Follow Your Character Around
After our house burned down came the horrendous job making a list of everything we lost. While I am sure most people just put the big stuff, I visualized the rooms down to pulling out drawers and opening cabinets. The frustrated agent said it took two women six weeks to type it all in and do the calculations.
I do much the same thing when I create a character. I want to go through their homes and workplaces so that I know everything about them. Of course, it’s all my imagination. We novelist make up everything (or do we?).
Try following your character around before you fill out your character sheet. Does he wear sneakers or dress shoes? Is she a clothes horse or does she stick with a limited, classic wardrobe? Coffee or tea drinker? Italian, Thai, or burgers? Neatnik or slob? Likes their job? Co-workers?
Examples of how this information can be used? “You know, Jane, at the office, said that same thing last week. I don’t usually listen to her prattle on but it made sense coming from her. You? Not so much.” “I don’t drink coffee. Just tea. Green tea. You said there was coffee. It wasn’t me.”
Now you can make this stuff up on the fly and jot it down for reference but I really like getting to know my character first, then write. Of course, I still end up adding notes to my notes. Character development is not an exact science. There is no universal format but there is experience.
Yet, for a character to be successful, it must come to life within the pages of your story. The reader may not need to know every detail but they must feel as though they know the person. I’ve read so many books that fell flat because the author spent time describing the physical attributes but did little to reveal the personality, or shall we say, the soul.
The goal is to create such a vivid image of your characters in your mind that interactions between them smoothly transition from one scene to another. I know not everyone is visually oriented. Maybe you need to talk it out in a conversation with your character, much like an interview.
Pull out your bag of tricks and find your own way to increase the ‘realness’ of your character. Take a walk with them. Ask questions. Interview them for their local paper. Do background checks. Create a complete dossier on your character. Have fun with it.
Your characters are your foundation. Make sure they are strong enough to carry the story and real enough to stay alive in your reader’s mind.
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