Some writers begin their novel planning with a plot; some begin with a character. Either way, the protagonists, antagonists, side characters, and even the background ones are all crucial to your novel and knowing your characters can make or break a readable, engaging story.
I made a mistake when I began writing my last novel: I didn’t get to know my protagonist like a friend. I knew who she was, her background, and her motives, but I didn’t actually know her. I ended up having to pause in my writing and develop her characterisation, because otherwise she simply felt too flat.
Once I’d actually devoted some of my writing hours to her, she came more alive on the page. It may seem counterproductive to spend hours on something a reader would never see, but I guarantee it will make your character seem more like a person, and less like black and white text.
How do we go about developing our characters to be those companions, rather than simple vehicles to tell a story? Here’s 5 tips to help you; all techniques I use myself, in no particular order!
1) Have an interview
Whether you want to frame it as a police interrogation, or a lifestyle magazine, sit down discussion, an interview gives you a chattier side to your character.
Begin by writing a list of questions – have a look on websites or in magazines for inspiration if you’re stuck on the questions. Set it aside for a bit, get a cuppa or have a break, then answer them as if you are the character. Go into depth; embellish in detail.
2) Write descriptions doing mundane things
For some readers, the pet hate is that characters never do anything mundane. They fight battles, but we never see them sleeping it off or cleaning their wounds – unless the scene is for a reason! Most characters rarely use the toilet or shower or brush their teeth – unless they’ve been for a night out, and the author is trying to show they’re incredibly hungover!
We don’t need these scenes in books – they’re like clutter in a house. We want the important scenes instead. But writing a short narrative or scene with a mundane activity can reveal a lot about your character. Do they sing in the shower? Fall asleep on the loo? Hate cooking? Daydream whilst they hoover?
I won’t lie – these are the two main things I do to help develop my characters, but there are a few more techniques up my sleeve…
3) Move your characters into a new location
Writing a Victorian novel? Transport your character to the 21st century. How would they react to new technology or the ability to travel without horse, cart, or train? Or send your modern day teenager back to a medieval castle – how would they try and get back?
Your novel may be a time travel story, so you could potentially send your characters to another time period you’re not planning on writing about. It may test your research skills too – a good skill in a writer!
4) Drop your character into an emergency
It’s 6am, and your protagonist wakes to the blaring fire bell. What do they do? Who or what do they save?
It’s dinner time, and your character slices their thumb on a grater. How do they react? Do they already have a first aid kit, or do they have to go to the local shop and buy a plaster? Do their knees go weak at the sight of blood?
Not only does dropping your character into an emergency test their reaction skills and what they do in the face of stress, but it tells you about their personality and homes – are they prepared, weak stomached, or scrabble to make their way through life?!
5) Mix your protagonist and antagonist – outside of your novel
Your antagonist may be a super villain or something more metaphorical like your character themselves! Either way, force your character to interact with their antagonist in a scene that isn’t planned to be in your novel.
It’s like risk-free writing. You don’t have to have your scene necessarily do anything, which makes it low stakes, but it’s still going to aid your development of both protagonist and antagonist.
Your characters are the driving force of your move, and it’s important to spend the time developing them!
I hope these tips have helped! If you have any more, drop them in the comments – I am always looking to develop my own writing too. 🙂
Until next time,