Creating characters readers will be invested in and resonate with is no easy task. We have to make them step up off the page so readers can take them in with all the senses, experience them as real people. Readers want to know what the character looks like, what she smells like, sounds like, feels like, and in some cases, even what she tastes like. Take her from flat to living and breathing by spending enough time with her. Treat her like someone you care about because before you’re finished with her, you will care about her. Very much.
To get started, keep a character journal. Devote a page or more to each character.
- Create a name, gender, and age.
- Describe what she looks like. Give her a hair color, a body shape. Dress her.
- Fill her apartment, bedroom, and car with things. But do this selectively. What she wears and what she owns tells us who she is.
- Make her talk. Is her voice high or deep? Loud or soft? The way she speaks tells us how much power she thinks she has in the world.
- What does her apartment smell like? Her car? What about her hair?
- And if you kissed her? Her skin? Her mouth? What would you taste? (In a past post I wrote that we have to fall in love with our characters. Sometimes we also have to make love to them.)
- Move her. Show us how she walks. Laughs. Picks up a wine glass or a cigarette. How she handles a pencil.
After you have her physicality clear in your mind (and this may come in pieces), get to know her and understand what motivates her to want the things she wants and to make the choices she makes.
- Why does she go to the same coffee shop every day?
- What does she do while she’s there and why?
- What does she want, more than anything and why?
- What, or who, might interfere with her getting her desire?
- What’s at stake if she doesn’t get what she wants? How will this affect her life, and what new decision will she make when met with an obstacle?
As writers, to tell our characters’ stories, we have to become one with them. We have to allow them to climb inside us and live under our skin as much as we have to climb inside them and live under theirs. The more time we spend knowing them from the inside out, the more we can understand what moves them.
And the more we move our characters, the more we move your readers.