Forget about hair color and broad shoulders and kissable lips. The best stories have characters that are complex, well-drawn and have such interesting inner and outer struggles that readers can’t help but be fascinated by them.
There are hundreds of ways to develop character, from figuring out their favorite ice cream flavors to starting with an archetype and building on it. This is just one little list to set you thinking. If you only manage a couple of these, your characters will be more vivid, more interesting and strong enough to carry a reader through your story.
1. Give them a secret that you won’t reveal to the readers until halfway through the book. It can be a huge plot twist, like the fact that they are blind or it can be something small like they have an addiction to reality television.
2. Give them a habit that they’re ashamed of.
3. Give them an unreliable form of transportation.
4. Give them a chronic disease.
5. Give them an aversion or irrational fear toward something that is common, like cell phones.
6. Give them a skill that they are so good at, they would be considered an expert.
7. Give them an online personality test, like the Meyers Briggs, and see where they wind up. Then think through each of their scenes, having them respond appropriately.
8. Give them a different name, something that is as phonetically opposite as what you originally picked. (Your first choice was Amy, now she’s Zelda) Write a paragraph about them with it and see if you discover any insight about them.
9. Give them a desire that they don’t even know that they have, like security or acceptance or love.
10. Give them a significant other/sidekick/sibling/partner in crime who is their exact opposite in every way.
11. Give them a significant other/sidekick/sibling/partner in crime who is just like them in every way, only exaggerated. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Think Frasier Crane and his brother Niles. They were alike in so many ways, but Niles was more exaggerated.
12. Give them a personality disorder. Don’t know which one? Check this out.
13. Give them a couple of unusual possessions that symbolize who they are and what they want. Like Indiana Jones’ hat.
14. Give them a mental list of things that they will not do, ever. Then, of course, put them in situations where they must.
15. Give them a chance to be compassionate. Have them do something altruistic, or tender or generous. Put this early in the book, so the reader will like them.
16. Give them a very favorite subject to talk about, then write for ten minutes, in their voice, about that subject.
17. Give them preferences for the most mundane things, like how they sit at a table and eat, how they get ready for bed, how they organize their workspace.
19. Give them pet peeves. Put them in a situation in which they are annoyed by them and write about how they respond to them.
20. Give them five favorite books. One from childhood, one fiction, one non-fiction, one that they would never admit to and one that they often give away as a gift.
Each of these suggestions are here not necessarily to fill out that 90K manuscript. Instead, they should be used as a way to sculpt the character better in your mind, so when you write a description, dialogue, when you put them in their conflicts and when you have them react to the situations around them, you’ll know them. You’ll like them. And hopefully, your reader will too.
Got any more? Let’s hear them!