I’ve discussed in previous posts the importance of character development and how other ways of improving your writing can have an effect on your characters. I want to dedicate a single post to this topic, as it is, in my opinion, the biggest driving force of a story next to plot.
Do you really know who your characters are? You might think so, but as I discovered first hand, it’s very possible to not have characters fully developed, no matter how much you think you know. When I had a critique done on a novel I wrote, I was surprised to hear that the characters I felt so strongly about and thought I knew inside and out really didn’t come across as developed. The critiquer even stated that by the end of the story, they did not feel like they knew that character at all.
Many writers ask how they can improve character development, not knowing where to start. I say start at the beginning. As a writing exercise, rewind your character’s life and write their story. Try answering these questions to get started:
- Who were their parents? Or were they raised by someone other than their parents?
- Did they grow up in a poor environment or affluent family?
- Did they have childhood friends? Do any friends from back then stick around to show up in your story?
- How did they do in school? Did they struggle, or did they go to advanced classes?
If your character is an adolescent, you can’t go much farther in life than this. Consider more tiny details like favorite movies, books, games, food. These are good If your character is an adult too, but also consider some more questions, depending on age:
- What do they do for work? Have they had multiple jobs? Did they like it or hate it?
- What kind of car do they drive? Or do they have to take the bus?
- If they have a significant other, how did they meet? How have past relationships been?
Don’t just answer these questions in one sentence. Take it and make a mini story. For example, if your character had a childhood friend, write about their relationship. Even if this friend does not appear in your main story, writing out how they were as children or teenagers will bring out traits in your character that you might not have seen. Perhaps it’s a friend that your character lost touch with before your main story begins, and their parting affected your character’s actions toward others in the future. Knowing the details of their past will help you tune into how your character became who they are today.
Any of these questions can be developed into a mini story, and even linked together to make a full profile of your character’s life before now. Make it at least a couple of pages long, but don’t limit yourself. You might discover something new and run with it. By the end you should feel that you know every detail about them, because if you were thorough enough, you should know everything and be prepared to bring those things to life in your story.