When I wrote my novel, I didn’t bother to read any novel writing tips or guides. I just rushed off and started writing without fully planning my characters. What was the result? In short, my characters ended up being emotionally inconsistent and nothing more than carbon-copies of each other. I hadn’t done enough planning, I hadn’t got to know my characters. I didn’t know how they would act, how they spoke, I didn’t even really have a good idea of what they looked like when I look back.
So I sat down and came up with a plan, a method of developing my characters in such a way that I ‘knew’ them. Not just what they looked like, but really knew them. It made writing for them a hell of a lot easier, and seeing as I am such a nice guy I’m going to share my method with you. The five steps I follow aren’t rocket science but they really worked for me, and I hope they can help you as much as they helped me.
I should also say that you don’t have to follow all the stages. Minor characters may only need a few of the steps. Although for major characters I would still recommend doing all five stages.
The first stage is to question or interview your characters. This is probably the most common stage, and most if not all writers and authors will be doing this. Usually called Bio’s or Biographies, this step details your characters basic information. So all the details like age, height, build, favourite colour, clothes, nationality, hobbies, occupation etc. will be in this bit. The depth of information is entirely up to you, but I would suggest that you should at least have a good idea of what your character looks like after performing this step.
There are hundreds if not thousands of character bio templates out there on the web you can use, or you could create your own.
Here’s a good example I found while trawling the net – http://www.suspense.net/profile.htm
Chat with them
Ok, so now you know who you’re looking at. You might even know what they do for a living and how they spend their spare time. The really in-depth interviews might have detailed their favourite brand of toothpaste, or their favourite Monkee.
The next step is about meeting that character. You’ll practice how they speak, and hold conversations. Put simply you write a conversation between yourself and the character. It can be about anything; maybe something you found it in their interview or maybe just a pointless ramble about the weather. This exercise will help you to develop their speech. Do they use simple or complex language, swear, ‘umm’ and ‘arr’ a lot, these are the type of things you will need to think about in here.
It’s possible to have multiple characters in the conversation but I would suggest only involving one character at a time initially to make sure that you don’t get mixed character personalities.
Once you feel comfortable with your characters, you can write more conversations between multiple characters. You can use these more complex conversations to test out any animosities your characters may have, or flirtatious mannerisms.
Make them Squirm
Now you know what your characters look like and how they talk, it’s time to see how they would act. Take your freshly voiced character and send them somewhere. The situation you put them in can be as mundane or as bizarre as you want. Though I find the more bizarre and out-of-place the situation the more it will tell you about their character. Plus, I find those situations a hell of a lot more interesting to write.
If I was writing a character for a cyberpunk dystopian world, I would send them to Sesame Street. A character from an Elizabethan romance novel could be sent to the Playboy mansion in the 1980’s and so on. Put your characters on edge, make them squirm, wriggle, vomit and give them head-aches. Write about their thoughts, and actions in these bizarre situations. You don’t have to write a lot, and it doesn’t have to be well written, with perfect spelling and grammar etc. This is mainly for you. Throw in conversations if you can, to help gel the ideas you had in Stage 2.
Get them drunk
Now we’re getting to the real, eye-openers for your character. I strongly believe that you can truly get to know someone when they’re drunk. You might not like what you see but chances are that intoxicated, vomiting, horny, and silly crying blob in the corner is that true person once you strip away all their inhibitions and defences.
So that’s what you’re going do to your character, you’re going to Jägerbomb them half way to the next century. You’re going to take them just before they pass out from alcohol poisoning and see what they do. Will they try to hump everything in sight, will they attempt to fight with the barman over the cricket scores, maybe they’ll just cry by themselves in the corner over the person’s death they never got over.
This may never come out in your story, but you’ll be surprised how often alcohol features in novels somewhere. It makes our characters just that bit less reserved and a lot more interesting to both write and read about.
In Stage 5, you’re going to kill your characters. Don’t worry it’s not permanent, they’ll be up and running about before you know it. This stage is for taking them to their emotional extremes and nothing does that like getting killed, and you’re going to write about it. When you kill your characters make it slow enough for them to have last words. There’s no point decapitating your characters, for example. You can’t get detailed character insight from the sound of someone’s head falling off. Instead, make them terminally ill in bed, or shot in the stomach. You want to kill them in such a way that it gives them enough time to curse the thing that killed them or list their regrets. Will they finally tell their family how much they love them after so many years of being closed off? Maybe their last act on this earth would be to kill the person who killed them.
As with the other stages, don’t worry too much about structure and grammar.
So there you have it, after going through these five stages you should know your character as well as any family member. Actually you’ll know your characters better; you can’t go around killing members of your own family after all. Well I suppose you can but it’s heavily frowned upon.
Thanks for reading, if you liked this please spread the word and if you’ve used it yourself let me know what you did in the comments below. I’m always interested.