Characters are people, and like people, they should have unique qualities to them that help them stand apart from anyone around them. This might be a bad habit, or a particular turn of phrase, but something should help your characters stand out. A quirk or a habit they have.
Building these quirks and habits doesn’t need to be hard. It also makes characterization easier when you have a bank of features to fall back on for each character.
As an exercise: To help you build a bank of features, make a list of characters you want to flesh out more and answer these questions:
- What’s one bad habit they have?
- What’s one item they always have on them?
- What do they call their grandparents, aunts, uncles and parents? Which set of grandparents gets fun names like Grammy and Gramps, and which ones get Grandad and Grandmom?
- What is their favorite treat?
- What do they do when they’re nervous? (Think about this one carefully, some people stammer, others fidget, and some people even flush when they’re nervous. Your characters should reflect this.)
- How do they react to being shouted at suddenly? (Again, think about this, but don’t forget to reflect on their background. Someone who’s been abused will react very differently to someone who’s grown up in a safe, noisy household).
- What are they likely to collect? Books, stamps, figurines, coins, stuffed animals, etc.
- What do they usually say to greet someone?
- What do they say when they’re saying goodbye to a friend?
- How do they communicate affection without speaking? this
One of the most well-known topics for school essays is to pick someone you consider a hero or an idol. The topic itself is pretty simple and straight forward, but it can also help you develop your characters.
As an exercise try writing a paragraph or a page on who your character would consider an idol. Consider what makes them a hero to your character. What positive values makes them appeal to your character? Also consider in what ways your character relates to and acts like their hero.
Developing a character doesn’t have to be a strenuous task. One of the easiest ways to get into your characters’ heads might be, quite literally, writing through their perspective. If you’re trying to figure out how a character thinks, or develop their motivation a little more and charts and tables just aren’t working for you, try writing a journal entry for them.
Journal entries can be about almost anything. Using major events as the focus can help you see through that character’s perspective, and in turn, give you a better idea of how they react to each situation. Alternately, focusing on character specific secrets can help you develop their backstories and motivation.
These entries don’t need to be long either, which makes them perfect when you’re trying to get back into a story, or just starting one and need to find your flow. Aim for a page, but also keep your characters in mind. Not everyone would write a full page, and some might write even more.
Some ideas for character entries:
- You’ve just met the Main Character, how do you feel about them so far? (you can also use Antagonist, Love Interest if applicable, or Main Supporting).
- What is your biggest fear or weakness?
- How are you feeling after the opening of the story? The climax? The resolution?
- When is the last time they lost their temper with another character?
- What might tempt them over to the other side?