How to Develop Dynamic and Engaging Characters
In the second of a twelve-part blog series, founder of Books from Start to Finish Graham Schofield explores developing characters.
Previously, Graham has discussed the elements authors must consider in their desire for success in fiction writing. In part three in the series, Graham will look at plot development.
Think of Your Favourite
Let’s start with your favourite character, and I’ll ask you to consider what it is about them that makes them so special. Mine is Philip Marlowe created by Raymond Chandler. He’s tall and big enough to take care of himself, he likes liquor, women, reading, chess, and working alone, and he is educated enough that he boasts he can speak English “if he’s required to.” He does that best when wise-cracking.
“I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like ’em myself. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them long winter evenings.”
If you’ve never heard of him before, can you already get a sense of what he’s like? Numerous actors have played him in the movies, but none ‘got him’ better than Humphrey Bogart. The thing is, Marlowe is not just a hard-boiled PI; he is very ‘human,’ and the reader gets to experience his emotions and flaws, his desires, and what he believes in.
These are just some aspects you need to consider for all your primary characters, so write down all that you know and like about your favourite, and you’ll be on the way to understanding character development. What is it that makes this particular character stand out? What makes them feel real? What makes them essentially ‘human’?
Developing The Persona
Your characters, especially your main protagonist, have got to come alive on the page, but where do you start when putting pen to paper about them? The name is obvious, but then expand that into their age, height, weight, and so on. With those things in mind, the next tip I espouse is a bit of a shortcut, and that’s to imagine who would play your character in the movie of your book. Do that and the person will be more ‘in your head’ as you write.
It’s all about making them much more than just names on a page, and so what makes them real? For example, what are their mannerisms and habits? The distinction between characters comes not only from action and description but also dialogue, so how do they speak? Do they have a way of phrasing their words? How they dress and even details such as the music they like can richen your characters, but then we need to get beneath their skin.
Basing your characters on people you know is a common technique, but you need to think about their desires, secrets, ambitions, driving needs, and contradictions. Everyone has weaknesses, resentments, and beliefs that lie beneath the basic persona they show to the world. Your goal, as you bring them to life, is to ensure you can generate readers’ empathy with your characters, because the more you do that, the more they will invest in reading your work.
Scour the internet and you’ll find endless resources, so let me help you focus on those I have found to be the most useful for my clients in the past. I’ll talk about this more in the next lesson, where conflict in your plot is vital, but there is also a need for exploring the conflict in your characters.
There is none better at helping authors with this than K.M. Weiland, so let me begin with her and her advice on creating character arcs. You can read what she says via this link, and if you sign up for her newsletter you can get an excellent free ebook:
Other suggestions for additional guidance are as follows:
That’s all for now, but if you’re having any difficulty in defining your characters, then do please get in touch; the contact details are below.
Have you created an interesting character? Share some details below or tell us who your favourite is and why.
About Graham Schofield
Founder of Books from Start to Finish, Graham Schofield works with authors of fiction and non-fiction to write, edit, and publish their books, including many different business owners across numerous industries. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.