It’s often said that characters can run away with a novel, and I totally agree. That’s because real people have opinions and personalities, and if you have a diverse novel, then you shouldn’t be agreeing with your characters all the time. They’re going to do things you don’t want them to, and your novel will prosper for it.
No Character Should Be the Same
Down to the details in how they speak
If every character is unique, then their interactions with each other, and with the reader, will be unique. They will leave a lasting impression, because the dialogue becomes richer, not to mention the plot as they drive it along. And some times… drop kick it to a place you didn’t think it would go.
So how does one create diverse characters?
Each writer approaches this differently. Some say that the characters just leap at them in a fully formed idea. More often than not, however, one must look at the character they have discovered, and then dig deeper to learn more about them.
It’s like, when you discover a character, you are given a glimpse of them, like in a blurry photograph, but then you have to meet them.
Because every writer approaches the character introduction differently, I can’t advise you in the ‘right’ way to go about doing it. However, I have put together some useful tricks I’ve discovered when trying to get to know your characters.
In no particular order, here are some tactics I have used to try and discover who exactly, my characters are.
The passport for your characters
Character sheets can come in all shapes and sizes, from just name and basic info, to a detailed report that records everything.
Scrivener is a powerful resource for writers. When I wrote my first few novels, I opted just to work in Word. That was fine for those projects. However, my newest novel is more complex, with more characters, and more plot lines running around simultaneously, so I opted to try Scrivener, and this has been so helpful with organization.
Here’s the character sheet that comes with Scrivener:
This is a pretty basic sheet, asking for physical description, role in story, occupation, different types of conflict, etc. But often, I find myself puzzling over even these simple things. What are my character’s internal conflicts? And why do those conflicts plague them? These are good questions to ask.
But character sheets can get even more detailed to make sure you know who you’re working with.
For example. What class was your character born into? What religion? Who are/were their parents? Where is home for them? Why? What is their most important childhood memory? Why? What habits do they have? Is the habit one they like, or are annoyed by?
There are so many questions you can start to ask that will help you discover who’s actually in that blurry picture.
The next trial is… how do you discover what some of the answers are to these questions?
One of my all time favourite methods… is conducting an interview
Interview your character(s)
This can look like whatever you would like it to. Here’s one I did recently, when I was having trouble figuring out a couple of the characters in my latest WIP “The Others”. I literally just approached it like I was sitting in a room with them, asking a few questions.
Interview With Kaden, Bite, and Jaclyn. (Fox is in the room)
How would you describe yourself?
Kaden: Good-looking *slow smile
Bite: I work hard.
Jaclyn: I wouldn’t
What is your greatest strength?
Kaden: My charm. But in all honesty? I’m pretty good in a fight.
Bite: Long pause. “My intuition.”
Jaclyn: They don’t see me coming before they’re dead.
Fox (jumps into conversation here): Blue, like your eyes, Darling.
Kaden: Blue like the sky before sunrise.
Bite: Uh, green I guess.
Jaclyn: Haven’t thought about it.
Notes, post interview:
Kaden is more closed off, but acts friendly to hide it.
Bite is more open, more cold (broken in past, isn’t hurting but fighting back) When faced with something new or different, he doesn’t hide how uncomfortable it makes him (such as the human environment.) Maybe gets frustrated with his incompetence?
I can tell you right now, that interviews spontaneously with characters is probably the most fun to do. Try it out. You never know what you’ll learn.
So as you can see, there are many different ways to start to get to know your characters… but figuring out who they are is a crucial and rewarding step to writing your novel!