K. L. Schwengel
Plot can drive a story, but without characters to keep it on the road, even the most intriguing plot can spin into the ditch. Not just any characters will do, however. They need to be vibrant, engaging, capable of either making us love or hate them. Two dimensional characters will flutter away in the breeze and leave us as flat as they are.
So, how to go about making your characters come to life?
First off, give them a flaw. Or several flaws. Even the most badass hero has to have a weakness. Internal demons, a physical issue, personality trait — without it, readers aren’t going to care overmuch about our hero. If he’s Prince Charming, perfect in every way, handsome, strong, intelligent, kind, noble, blah, blah, bo-ring. What if Prince Charming is insecure? What if he’s hiding some dark secret that eats at him? How does he handle that? How does it effect his ability to pass off the Charming charade, and what are the consequences of it? Now you’ve got a character we can possibly relate to.
Make it tough on them. Nobody gets to skate through life and avoid all the pitfalls. Throw things at your characters. Literally and figuratively. Show them overcoming adversity, or not. The most interesting characters are the ones that struggle to get to the end of the story. And remember, they don’t always win. That’s okay. That’s why we can relate to them.
Show growth. If your heroine starts out as a spoiled, pampered girl and ends the story as a spoiled, pampered girl, you’ve got a problem. Nobody is going to want to stick with her to the end. She’ll be the character everyone is hoping will get killed off just to get her out of the way. That flaw I mentioned, those things you’re throwing at your character? They build tension and help move the plot (otherwise, they shouldn’t be there) which means they need to affect your heroine.
Make them individuals. No two people are the same. Even identical twins have something that sets them apart from one another. Use that. Study the people you know. What are their little quirks? Do they talk with their hands? Have a nervous gesture? Like to dress flamboyantly? Whatever it is, find it and use it.
Dialogue helps. A creature in its own right, good dialogue can be tricky. Read your dialogue out loud. If your tongue trips over it, you’ve got issues. Listen to how people around you talk. Most people use contractions and a lot of adverbs. They also tend not to use proper sentence structure. Yes, they dangle their participles all over the place, even in public. Give your characters their own unique voices. A fun exercise to try is to write an entire scene using nothing but dialogue. No tags, no action, just people talking. The reader should be able to distinguish between characters based on speech patterns, and word choices.
Now, while you’re creating all these marvelous main characters, don’t forget the minor ones. If they’re important enough to have a walk on role, their important enough to pay attention to. If you’re putting them in just for fluff, get rid of them. They deserve to be just as real as the main players.
Really delving into your character’s skin can be one of the most fun and exciting parts of being a writer. Readers will fall in love with your flawed hero, your sullied heroine. They’ll love to hate your psychotic antagonist. Nothing like a good baddie to get the blood boiling. But it’s up to you to get them there. To lift that character from flat and boring, to full-figured and intriguing. And always remember, how your characters view one another can also tell volumes about them.
So, what are your tips and tricks for character development? What makes a character memorable for you?