In the last post on developing character, we talked about getting acquainted with new characters, particularly your lead characters. I likened that process to your first impressions and first conversations with new friends. (If you missed that post, you can read it here.)
But writing believable characters is more complicated than making new friends and while you do go through all the same stages, you need to be more than just casual friends with your most important characters.
In other words, once you’ve become acquainted, then you need to get friendly.
In the getting acquainted phase of the process, I mentioned a few things you’d be likely to learn from a casual acquaintance. Their name and maybe an occupation or interest, for example.
In a face to face meeting, you’d also make observations on such things as height, weight, hair and eye color, and so on. You’d see some mannerisms and speech patterns. You’d begin to form an opinion on what type of person you were talking to.
Obviously, that’s not as easy with a fictional character as it is with a real person. Especially in the realm of physical traits, mannerisms, and speech patterns. You can’t just walk up to a new fictional character and observe those things.
But there are ways to get to know your characters better and to get friendly with them.
When you’re meeting new people and making new friends, the process is all about building relationship. You find common interests and focus on them at first. Say you and your new friend both like baseball. That’s what you talk about. You learn how deep the other person’s interest is, how much trivia they know, and how often they go to games. You might even go to a game together.
Do the same thing with your character. Every one of your characters will have something in common with you. It’s almost automatic. Find those things and focus on them at this stage of character development.
Here are a few tools and methods to get you started.
Tools: Character Interview
Remember that character interview I mentioned in the previous post? The one you can download for free here? It has a section for this part of the character development process.
Questions to answer from this section of the character interview include:
- Speech patterns
- Physical expressions
- Favorite/frequently used words
- Manner of walk
- Optimist or pessimist
- Introvert or extrovert
- Philosophy (this may be only a general idea)
There are a lot more questions than these to ask, but these will get you started.
Methods: Random Scene
This is quite a lot like the introductory scene or omniscient narrative I mentioned last week. In this case, however, you’re focusing not on a random event, but on that thing (or things) that you and your character—your new friend have in common. If the common interest is baseball, for example, write a scene in which your character is at a game or talking about a game with another character.
Or with you.
This is one of my favorite ways to get to know characters better. You can do this one of two ways.
For a more formal type of meeting, try the character’s work place and treat it the same way you might treat an interview if you were gathering information to write an article about someone.
For a more informal meeting, meet your character in a favorite diner, pub, or other location. I’ve met with characters on their back deck, at a city park, and in a restaurant.
It sounds difficult and perhaps scary, but once you get into it, it’s one of the easier ways to get friendly with a character. Granted, it doesn’t work with all characters, but it will work with many of them.
The bonus is that the way your character behaves toward you is the way they’ll behave toward other characters, as well. So you can get a feel for their style of interpersonal interaction, as well as getting more specific information.
By the way, this is a great way to begin at square one with character development and proceed from there. I have started with a very formal interview and progressed to a near friendship or beyond with new characters with this method in the past. It’s great for surprises, too, because sometimes the character takes over and that’s always fun.
Remember, you’ll gain an increasingly deeper understanding of a lot of these things as you learn more about your character. At the getting acquainted phase, you might learn where they work. As you get friendly, you might hear that they don’t like their job and discover a hint of a dream job, but it won’t be until you get personal that the character tells you what that dream job is.
That’s okay. In fact, that’s as it should be. As you gain a deeper understanding, you can change your answers to reflect the new information or understanding.
Continue fleshing out the interview questions for your lead. Get into the more personal parts of the interview. Answer as many of the questions as you can and completely as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. The beauty of the character interview is that it can expand as much or as little as you need.
Meet with your character. If you don’t know where to start, begin with a twenty-questions sort of interview. It can be in person or not.
If you know enough about your character to know what he or she does for a living or where their favorite place is, try writing a personal interview at their office or in that favorite place. Don’t stress over this. It may not work the first time, but keep trying. The more you write this type of character development, the easier it will become.
And watch for those bonus tidbits! They will happen.
FREE: Well Rounded Character Worksheet Part 2 Getting Friendly (Click to download)