Sometimes you’ve got a great idea for a story, but your main character falls a little flat. What’s a writer to do? Here are some quick ideas to help you flesh out a character and make him or her more memorable
1. Give ’em a quirk
Most real people have some little quirk, a habit they partake in every day or some small little action they perform when they are stressed or lost in thought. Not only does giving your character a quirk make them relatable, but it allows you to use that quirk or habit to quickly demonstrate feelings or emphasize those feelings within a scene. If your character always tucks her hair behind her ear when she’s nervous, or if he sings the first few bars of Hallelujah whenever he’s solved a problem, then when a reader sees or hears these actions they have an immediate, deeper understanding of that character’s state of mind.
For some tips and examples of how adding a quirk can enhance your characterizations read When To Use Character Quirks
For a great list to get your creative juices flowing about character quirks check out: 100 Character Quirks over on the Her Majesty Helps blog
2. Create a Backstory
There’s an old saying that implies you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been, and when it comes to characters this adage really holds true. If you find you are having a hard time figuring out how your character thinks or if you are find his or her motivation lacking, then consider taking the time to actually write out that character’s backstory. That’s not to say that you have to dump it all in the first chapter (please, don’t do that), in fact, the backstory doesn’t have to be in the book at all. Think of it more like the highlights of a long-standing relationship with that character. When you understand the whys of his quick anger, or experience in her past that caused all of her control issues, it becomes infinitely easier to predict how each of those characters will react when someone steals from them or shows up late for a date.
How much backstory should you include in your book? Read Nail Your Character’s Backstory With This One Simple Tip from the folks over at Standout Books.
Steps for creating a backstory? Here you go: Building Better Backstories – Tips & Ideas over on Springhole.net
3. Put a Pin in it.
One of my favorite ways to get inside the head of a character is to use Pinterest to pin things related to that character. Even if you don’t use descriptions of the items in the book, it can be a great way to find inspiration when you’re not sure what comes next or help you paint a realistic setting. Create the wardrobe she takes on travels through the Klondike, shop for furniture and all the little knick-knacks that make his living room totally him.
Looking for other ways you can use Pinterest for your book? Here are 5 Ideas for Using Pinterest as an Author from the amazing Jane Friedman.
4. Put Them to the Test
This really goes hand in hand with tip #2, but understanding, truly knowing what make a character tick can open doors when it comes to creating conflict to put them up against. An easy way to better understand a character’s personality? Make them take a personality test, of course! There are any number of free personality assessments available on line, but don’t just limit yourself to standards like Meyers-Briggs. Look for job and relationship tests too.
Interested in how to use these tests? Read Personality Tests for Your Characters (and all the other awesome stuff) over on the Writers on the Move site.
5. Sit Them Down for A Little One-on-One
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to meet your character in person? What would they think of you? What questions would you ask them if you could? If you are having a hard time getting your character’s personality to jump off the page, consider writing a mock interview or a pretend interrogation. Find inspiration in the voice and style of interviews in a few of your favorite magazines and then turn a little of that journalistic curiosity on your characters. The answers might surprise you and hopefully will give you inside scoop on what you need to do in order to help readers see that character in the same light you do.
Possibly the only list of character interview questions you’ll ever need: 100+ Questions to Help You Interview Your Character from the multi-talented K.M. Weiland