Creating characters is one of the most enjoyable aspects of story writing and not always easy to get right. No hero is all good, no villain all bad, so it’s important to avoid stereotypes. If readers can relate to real characters then they will care about them and want to know what happens to them.
I helped run a session recently at a Writers’ retreat where we were thinking of ways in which to bring our characters to life. Here are some of the ideas which came out of the session – some mine, some from other writers – which I thought I’d share.
Choose a character and then describe a room in the house where he or she lives, indicating, through your description, all the aspects of the character but without the character actually appearing in the piece. It’s surprising how much you can learn about the person who inhabits the room through the state of the room and the objects within in.
Imagine you are on a wide, flat beach. In the distance, you see a figure. This is your character. Slowly, you begin to see them better. You begin to see their body, their clothes, their face. Watch them walking towards you. Take a good look. They are close now and you can see every detail of their features. What does their hair look like? Is it long or short? What colour is it? Is it neat/messy? What about their eyes? What colour? And their face? Is there any feature which stands out? What are they wearing? What kind of clothes? What colour? Are they normal/exotic? Are they in a uniform of some sort or in their own clothes? How old are they? You can tell by the way they are walking that they are feeling something. What are they feeling? Are they afraid/happy/angry/sad/scared? Do they have a secret?
Show don’t tell (yes, I know it’s an old chestnut but it’s worth repeating). Describe someone you know well. Make a list of some of the person’s traits then show examples of these traits in your writing. For instance, here are some ways you could describe someone’s gran. Big busted: used to brush the crumbs off her chest with her hand. Fun: used to cheat at Snap by shouting loudest and laughed until no sound came out and she had to wipe the tears away with a cotton hankie she tucked under her bra strap. Feisty: A man threw his empty cigarette packet out of his car window. She picked it up and threw it right back!
Have a go at interviewing your character to find out more about him or her. For example, what football team does he/she support? What does he/she like to eat – and when? What
music does he/she enjoy? By asking lots of ordinary questions you can really begin to get inside that character.
Write a few pages of a diary in the voice of one of your main characters.
The session certainly gave me some new ideas of ways in which to get to know the characters in my stories and flesh them out for my readers.