About those tricks. Some of us interview our characters. Other writers systematically fill out character worksheets to determine all the things that make them tick. Some of us just talk and talk about them to our families, until our husbands and kids begin to think we might even leave our characters a place in our will.
However, maybe you're a writer who struggles with character development. If so, here are some of my tricks, put together over the years from a multitude of sources including several other great writers out there and a lot of my own trial and error.
1.) The Free-Write
This is stream-of-conscious writing, wherein you just slip into your characters skin and start letting them explain their thoughts, their needs, their reasons for everything they're doing. Let them scream out their problems or beg in prayer for help. Let them tell you what's wrong with the other people around them and what they wish. Let them journal their faith questions, their love life, and anything else that's in their thoughts and heart, whether or not you use it all later.
Tip: This is a great way to discover back-story.
2.) The Interview
Similar to stream-of-conscious, this is where you ask your character questions and allow them to answer in their own voices. You might have to pry. Here are some examples:
- What are you most afraid of?
- What keeps you awake at night?
- What do you want more than anything else in the world?
- What is keeping your from going after and getting what you want?
- Who do you wish you were closer to?
- What were your parents like? Your home life as a child?
- Have you ever been in love? Do you want to be?
- Is there a secret you are keeping?
- Have you ever let anyone down?
- Are you running from something?
- Are you organized? Really?
- Would you use a weapon for protection if you had to, and what kind would you use? What about if it meant protecting someone you love?
- Do people trust your word? Why, or why not?
- Do you have trouble trusting others, or is that not a problem; again, why or why not?
Tip: You'll begin to hear their unique voice and figure out how they'll respond to conflict.
There's another question you could ask your character, but it's so big it deserves it's own category of exploration.
3.) Discovering the Emotional Wound
What happened in your character's past (either recently or more distant) that has left such an impact on him or her, it creeps in and drives his or her decisions, their moral character, their emotions. You'll have to think about this for a while. Every emotional wound comes with a variety of possible outcomes. For some, an emotional wound -- say, the loss of a loved one -- drives them to a bigger, more noble purpose. They create funds, develop community organizations, help others suffering. For others, they turn inward, become bitter, become fearful and reclusive. There are many other reactions. I would suggest that you think about this very deeply. There will be consistent and inconsistent reactions related to emotional wounds. There will be lashing out and there will be self-blame. There will be vindictiveness or running away. It all depends. For help discovering your character's emotional wound, I recommend the Emotional Wound Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.
Tip: Your character's emotional wound will be the driving force behind the way they react to any given situation in the story until they find healing.
4.) Exploring The Lie
Your character has a misconception about his world. It's the Lie he believes that goes along with his emotional wound. So when fleshing out a character, determine what that lie is and explore it to its full potential. Here are a few common lies to be considered, but there are HUNDREDS.
- The only way to have value or love is to always do for others, no matter what it costs you.
- You're not somebody unless you have material wealth and success.
- You'll be happy when the people who've wronged you "get theirs".
- You can only trust yourself.
- You/I don't deserve love or happiness.
- You/I don't deserve children.
- No one is capable of doing as good a job at ... as you/me.
- You/I don't deserve forgiveness.
- Might makes right.
Tip: Finding and nurturing the Lie will also help you discover themes that are integral to your story so you can create scenes that amplify the themes -- and eventually bring dynamic change to your character.
5.) Character Recasting
Sometimes when I'm really stuck -- I mean hip deep in quicksand stuck -- I think about characters that I've loved - or loved to hate. I return to movies, books, my old stories, anyplace where a character lives on in my memory, for good or for bad. I don't plagiarize those characters, because that's illegal, don't ya know. But I do give then a good, close look. I think of attributes that made them stand out. I think about the lies they believed. I think about their responses to those lies and to what their desires became because of them. I think about story themes in the worlds where those characters live.
Tip: Sometimes this activity will inspire a great new idea for one of my characters that is lacking a little something.
If you use character re-casting, it doesn't hurt to clip out a picture (if one exists) or pin one to your Pinterest Board just for reference when you feel like they're getting misty on you. There are other good uses for doing that as well, like remembering the shape of their face or the color of their eyes. Peek at some of my boards for my books and characters. Here's one for heroines, another for The Deepest Sigh, my May '18 novel The Softest Breath, and my Oct. '18 novel, Mist O'er the Voyageur.
Once you've really started getting to know your character, let the paperwork rest. Take a walk. For me, a shower is a great tool to warm up my imagination. I'm not even kidding! Get away from the keyboard and just bake cookies or something. Invite your character to hang out with you and get to know each other. They might just clue you in to something you never even considered before. Some secret, some scene waiting to be revealed. If that happens, scurry to a notebook and write it down before it gets away. Your in-laws might think you're ready to be committed, but:
Tip: The more you build a relationship with your fictional character, the more your reader will be able to do the same.
Iisn't that the point? Getting those readers to grow attached to your character and his or her plight is what the whole story-telling thing is all about!
I hope this helps you have fun getting acquainted with your characters.