Character Development: Who are these people, and how did they get in my head?
Characters come to writers in many different ways. Some writers have a general idea of who their characters are before they start writing, while others, like me, usually know who one or two characters will be, and the others make themselves known as the story progresses—forces to be reckoned with that cannot be ignored. That sounds hokey, but it’s true. In CHASING AMANDA, for example, Tracey appeared as a little red headed girl whose curiosity was palpable, and dangerous. It was up to me to figure out how her curiosity played into the story. When I met Molly, in my mind I saw her running down White Ground Road, and I (mentally) followed her. I saw her hit with her first vision. Voila! Instantly I knew what she looked like, that she was a runner, and clairvoyant.
My readers want to get to know my characters, to love or hate them, feel their pain, and delight in their joy. In order to create that bond, they have to know more than what color hair and eyes the characters have or what clothing they wear. Characters should have backgrounds, hopes, secrets, flaws, families, and goals. No one wants to read about perfect characters—people aren’t perfect. I try to dig deeper when creating characters, exposing insecurities and flaws. The more three dimensional characters are, the more believable they will be.
I also try to involve all the senses. What do my characters smell like? Musky, acrid, or sweet as a newly baked muffin? Is their skin soft as a lamb’s ear or rough as sand paper? Is their voice annoyingly nasal or is it raspy, setting butterflies free in the other character’s stomach when they speak? Does the way they carry themselves make one’s skin crawl or are they open and welcoming? These are all things I try to put together within days of “meeting” my characters, and even then, a character might start out being warm and wonderful and end up being a pain in the rear. In those cases, at least I have a person to mold and play with while moving forward.I take notes about each character, detailing their looks, backgrounds, hopes for the future, where I think they’re headed in the story (which changes along the way), their style, and their quirks. With MEGAN’S WAY, I knew exactly where each character had attended college, what their childhood homes had looked like, and even, for some, what their first vehicle had looked been—all those things played into the creation of who they came to be.
By the time I finish a final draft, the characters feel as though they are live human beings that I’d just spent a year getting to know.
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