Character development is the key element all writer's share. A non fictional writer has to make sure they understand the character in which they are writing about, they have to know that person's likes dislikes, background history, friends, enemies, family tree, etc. And a fictional writer needs to know all these things to make their characters believable. As we already discussed you don't want to have a story filled with cliché characters, so how do you create a unique yet believable character?
By now you should have known I was going to say that's the first step. The best way to combat cliché characters, is to chose a real life person to model your character after. However, be careful of this. Unless you are writing non-fiction you want to take a few characteristics from your muse. Maybe they have a quirk that you find enduring. You don't want to make a carbon copy of your character unless you are working in non-fiction and it's their autobiography, or a fan fiction and you are paying homage to the original character.
Break the character down.
I like to get my character's down pack before I start writing. But creating a character from scratch can be daunting. Sometimes I get lucky and I have a clear vision of a character in my head so I can crank out a paragraph describing them. Sometimes I'm not so lucky. That's when I have to use simple questions to help me get a clear picture of my character. Usually these questions are broken up into categories: name, physical characteristics, favorites, habits, background, family history, Attitude, Personality, traits, self perception, interrelation to others, goals, crisis, general, and other. I'm going to break each of these down for you in 15 easy steps! This post will cover the first seven steps.
Naming your character
This is one of my biggest flaws, I suck horribly at naming things, it takes me for ever to name simple things (hence the reason why I haven't come up with a really cool name for this writing series, I'm taking suggestions!). One of the things I have found useful for me is a tool I discovered a while back. Name generators. I like to have the generator generate 30 names and then I mix and match, until I get the right name that jumps out at me for the character in my head. I currently have two generators book-marked, Seventh Sanctum (it has a lot of other generators as well) and Serendipity. There are some things to keep in mind when naming your character, be aware of your setting. If you have a story set in 17th century France, your main character should probably not be named Raine Talcken, but if your doing a 25th century sci-fiction story, a up and coming starship captain who always plays by the rules until she meets the heartthrob of the story who happens to be the leader of the growing resistance might be a better fit for Raine Talcken ( I think I just got a new story idea!). At this point you might want to make up a meaning or reason for that name. It's okay if you don't have one, but sometimes this helps to cement it in your head. In the CM series the main character's all have meaning to their names. They are all adaptations of Celtic names: Ciaran means black haired, Aislin means vision, Geilies means bright, and Kavan means handsome. If you want to have a name that has a unique meaning try baby name books or sites. Google the specific nationality and go through each link until you find one. Same for nicknames, right now I only one character who has a "nickname", Aislin is also called Lin by Ciaran. For the purpose of this demonstration we wont give Raine a nickname and the reason she's named Raine is because on the day she was born it was raining (not all that original but it serves the purpose.)
After you have a name you can start physically molding your character. Decide on the age of your character, because our girl Raine is a relatively high ranking starship commander technically she should be in her mid to late thirties, but I'm going to make her 27. Why? In my head she's very headstrong and determine, meaning she would have worked hard to become a commander at an early age. You should also think about how old do they look. For instance I'm 23 but I have people tell me all the time I could pass for 16 (not so proud of that one..not yet anyway.) I want her to look her age, meaning she no longer has the soft imperceptible curves of a young teenager but she doesn't have the sharp profound angles of a older woman. Eye color? Hair Color? Skin Tone? Here's another tip I like to do, I take a fashion magazine I have laying around and look at the models in the pages, I mix up some of their physical characteristics. You can also go to your favorite clothing website or use one the many generators. Check out my Cliché Characters post to see more helpful hints. I don't have any magazines near me, and I'm kinda lazy so I'm going to do a mixture of a generator and website. The results are our Raine has narrow turquoise-blue colored eyes, fine wavy black hair, with a light colored skin tone. Let's make her 5'8″ and weigh about 132 pounds. Now we get into specific details, all aim to make her unique? Since this is a futuristic sci-fiction story, I'm going to go ahead say we've managed to master eye impairments so she's not going to be wearing glasses or contacts. But she has a lean built, from all her hard work at training. I think she should have a dry skin type, I can see a discussion between her and heartthrob involving the atmosphere on her delicately dry skin. She has a heart shaped face, and a beauty mark right above her lip on the left side. Predominant features? She has a high forehead. If you chose to model them after someone famous, make sure you note that as well. Now that I have a slight indication of Raine, I'm seeing Christina Ricci when she played Wednesday Adams all but the blue eyes of course. Do they have a healthy appearance to them? I would say yes for Raine. After going through this you should have a clear picture in your head of your character.
The next steps are aimed at getting to know your character. These little details are helpful in knowing what your character would do in a situation and you can also put these details in your writing. Favorite Color? Orange. Favorite Music? Here's a place that can be kind of tricky, especially for futuristic writings. You can have some fun and make up a new genre of music by mixing up genres of today or you can have them be a diehard fan of an genre of today but in the story it's old school. I think Raine she be an old school fan of classical music. Favorite food? Kryller Cakes that can only be found in Etihaw nebula, which makes them a high priced delicacy (gotta love creative freedom!). Favorite Literature? Her guilty pleasure, erotic romance novels. She has a hidden stash in her quarters. Favorite expressions? "I'm so gonna kick your ass one day!" Favorite expletives? Dammit!
Habits and Mannerisms
Here's were you start making them unique and a person within their own right. Do they smoke and if so what? Do they drink and if so what? When and how much? Seeing as she's such a health nut Raine wouldn't be caught dead drinking or smoking. Hobbies? Other than reading her books in her spare time she also likes to fly, she often takes one of the smaller starships out on trips to distance planets, whenever she has time off.
Some of these details might not come up directly in your writing but they might affect how your character acts in the present day. Hometown? Type of childhood, first memory, most important event that still affects the character and why? Type of education, religion are they practicing, and what is their financial background. Raine is a earth born humanoid, and because I'm a naturally optimistic person *insert a sarcastic tone there*, I'm going to say that we never got over our innate need to kill one another and there was a major war that nearly destroyed the whole planet and now everyone lives on the Eurasia continent. Raine was born in the continent capital, Wabetolopa. Her father and mother are members of some governmental council, so she had a strict upbringing. Her first memory is of her first trip in a starship, looking out the window into deep space. It was the first time she was ever truly excited about something. And because her family was involved with the government she was privileged enough to go to some of the top schools, including college and later aerospace school ( I think that's the correct term to use). Raine doesn't participate in any religion, although her family does prescribe to the state mandated religion, a super religion that combines the major religions of today. Her family are considered middle high class people, they are rich enough to be in government but aren't rich enough to run for anything important. She herself, likes to live on modest means and disassociated herself from her family's wealth when she went to college.
More often then not you're character is going to have some kind of interaction with their family doing your story. It might be through a phone call, a flashback or person to person interaction. So figuring out their family tree ahead of time will help you tremendous and again this will also help you determine how your character acts. Mother's and father's name? Shilena and Jonah Talcken. She has one older brother, Luine Talcken. Raine adores her older brother and he adores her, they would do anything for each other. Neither one of them are close to their parents, for being shuffled off on watchers as their parents were to busy doing their civil duty. As such Raine only visits her parents once a year and Luine every chance she gets.
The last section we will cover in this post is attitude. Your character's attitude will affect all the rest of the sections to go. If your character has a bad attitude, then they aren't going to have many friends and their self perception of them selves will probably be negative. But understanding someone's attitude can be hard, because you are starting to get into their mind. And the mind is a weird and complicated place to be. So more questions to help you along the way. When is your character most at ease? Raine is most at ease when she's in the pilot seat. She would rather stay a pilot but she can handle someone telling her what to do so she decided to become a captain. When are they ill at ease? Whenever she's with her family, she never feels like she's good enough. Priorities? Her priorities at the start of the story is to become a high ranked commander. Their philosophy? Think first react later. How they feel about self? She has a positive outlook about herself, she believes she is living the life she has always wanted. Past failures they would be most embarrassed to have people know? That she failed the written part of the pilot test the first go around and had to use her parent's connections to take it over again in the same year. If granted one wish what would it be and why? I think Raine would wish for the freedom to have that feeling of freedom she once experienced as a young child.
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Getting To Know Your CharacterRandom
Are you creating a character but need to add some personality? Then this is the perfect book. This book will be giving tips and questions to ask yourself about your character.