When you know your characters inside and out, you’ll be able to authentically portray them to your readers. When I’m starting a new project, I think a lot about the cast of characters who will inhabit the world I’m building for them. Before I even begin writing, I spend some time getting to know them and thinking through what makes them tick. Here are some of the things I consider as I bring them to life on the page:
If you are writing middle grade or young adult fiction, getting that voice right is important. Even when portraying older characters, they’ll be seen through the eyes of a young person. But if, like me, you write adult fiction, you’ll still need to consider the age of the character you’re writing. There’s quite a difference between a recent college graduate navigating their first real job and a thirty-something single mom who’s trying to make ends meet.
Closely tied to age is life experience. A younger adult simply won’t have the years of experience behind them that an older character will have, and that will inform the choices that character makes and the opinions they hold. That’s not to say that a younger character won’t have plenty of history to explore, just that they may not have the gift of perspective yet.
Age aside, delving into a character’s past is important for you the writer. You may not choose to share all the sordid details with your reader unless they’re relevant to the current story, but you’ll reveal bits and pieces along the way, like a trail of breadcrumbs, to give your character depth and life.
Are we formed by nature or nurture? It’s an age-old question, and the answer is likely a little of both. So, in addition to creating a past for your characters to help readers make sense of their decisions, reactions, and values, you’ll need to give them a personality. Are they witty, shy, moody, full of energy? Are they book smart or street smart, neat or messy, a thrill seeker or someone who plays it safe?
When you create a detailed sketch of the character for yourself, you’ll be able to show them to your readers with consistency. Their actions will make sense, and you’ll have given them a starting point from which they can evolve.
Quirks and Habits
In addition to personality, we all have our little quirks and habits. Does your character obsess about the way laundry is folded, bite their fingernails, or put ketchup on everything they eat? Those little details bring color and life to your characters and make them relatable.
When we meet your character is she trying to find her missing partner? Is she running for her life? Is he plotting vengeance against the assassin who killed his true love? Readers need to understand what motivates your character so they can invest in the story and eagerly come along for the journey. Even your bad guys should have motivation. Without it, they will feel one-dimensional and their actions will seem pointless.
Getting to know your cast of characters will help you reveal them in living color throughout the pages of your novel. Remember, you don’t have to share everything you know with readers, but by having a complete picture yourself, you’ll be able to share details in the most interesting and relevant way.