Characters are what make our novels compelling. Without characters, all of our plotting and world building would be a huge waste of time. Here are a few tools to help you get to know your characters as well as some tips on how to make them believable.
Elana Johnson (from her blog in 2010) gave these tips on developing characters. Which I highly recommend by the way!
“I only have one bit of advice: Exaggerate their humanness." EJ
1. Humans have flaws.
2. Humans have secrets.
3. Humans have fears.
4. Humans have emotions.
5. Humans do stupid things and pay the price because of them.
6. Humans grow and change.
KM Weiland gave the following five steps for creating minor characters that dazzle with color and personality (also from 2010):
1. Think beyond the cliché. Instead of a taxi cab driver who navigates the Chicago streets like a maniac, why not one who’s so timid he can barely creep across the intersection during a light? Instead of a wide-eyed young woman who comes to New York dreaming of acting on Broadway, why not one who dreams of building skyscrapers?
2. Give him a unique personality. If your protagonist is playing the straight man, you can often have fun with outrageous minor characters. Sidekicks, in particular, often get to fill this role. But even what author Sandra Dark calls “dead-end characters” should be brimming with unique personalities. She writes in her article “Life After Death” (Writer’s Digest , August 2005) about how Stephen King’s use of dead-end characters “ratchets up suspense by not telegraphing who will survive the story.”
3. Give him a goal. Nothing brings a character to life more quickly than a desire. If this desire can mirror your protagonist’s to strengthen the thematic arc or oppose your protagonist’s to increase the conflict, so much the better.
4. Give him stakes. What happens if he doesn’t reach his goal? Memoirist Melissa Hart writes in her article “What’s at stake?” (The Writer, August 2010) that “the reader must be aware of what’s at stake for every character,” not just the protagonist.
5. Give him an arc. If he has a goal and a stake, why not a full-blown character arc? If you can give one or two prominent minor characters a mini arc that either echoes or contrasts the protagonist’s, you’ll be able to deepen the meaning and complexity of both the main character’s journey and the thematic arc as a whole.
For every vivid minor character with whom you surround your protagonist, you’ll be able to give readers one more reason not to put your story down.
Links to Character Development Worksheets and/or questions:
Character Development Questionnaire from nano forums.
Simplified Character Sheet
My top 8 posts on character building by Wagging Tales