Two Steps to Developing Characters through Research
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This month we are talking all about characterization. Characterization is important because characters bring our stories to life and create an emotional connection with our readers. Even with the most exciting plot, we need strong, well-developed characters to populate our world. And how do we develop our characters? With the right amount of research. There are two steps to developing our characters. Let’s explore these now.
- Start with the basics. The basics are the who, what, where, why, and how of the character. Who are they; what do they do; where do they live; why do they do what they do; and how do they live? You can base these characters off people you know or have encountered. Maybe you give them a similar backstory to your best friend in high school. Or you give them the nervous mannerisms of a guy you saw waiting in line one day, pawing at his face and biting his thumbnail. Or maybe he’s just as outgoing as your cousin and you give him the same types of antics.
If you don’t know people like your character, you can use the Myers-Briggs personality types to build your character personality off of. You can get a great understanding of personality that way and learn to write characters that are unlike yourself.
- Research comes in. This is where you add layers to your character, building them up beyond their personalities and into their daily lives. This includes occupation and hobbies, their culture, and setting (time and location).
What do they do? What is their job and their hobbies? What is their work ethic? How does what they do shape them as a character? A fellow server and a surgeon may treat their server at a restaurant very differently. A factory worker and a millionaire will react to emotional stressors differently. Plus there are the details of their daily life and routine. To write your story accurately, you’ll need to understand what they do every day. Hobbies also tell us a lot about personality and what our characters value. Jobs and hobbies may also be a part of the plot, which means you’ll need to know about them.
Culture includes things like ethnicity, nationality, education, philosophical beliefs, religious beliefs, and society. How do your characters interact with their family and friends? With strangers? What are their customs? Rituals? What holidays do they observe and why? What do they believe in? What shakes their faith? Learn about culture. It’s a major influence of personality and characterization.
Setting. Setting includes location and time. Knowing the location of your story world means you can accurately portray your story world. Little details about setting will bring your story to life. This is true even for made up worlds, which should still have a basis in fact. Your alien world will still have technical details about space travel and colonization you can research to add realism to your story.
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You’ll also need to research for the correct time period. Whether this is modern day, historical fiction, or set in the future, you’ll need to do your research to accurately portray your time period. What are the major events that define the time? What music is popular? What are the clothing styles? Famous figures and celebrities?
Research these details then weave them throughout your story. Remember backstory will help inform you while you write, but isn’t the focus of the story. Avoid info dumps or using too much technical jargon. Use these details to add layers to your characters and add realism and depth to your story. What do you research for your stories? Share below and happy writing.
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