Character Development – Get to know your characters…intimately

How well do you know your characters?  Do you know what type of music they like?  What kind of foods they prefer?  Do they like sports?  Do they play sports?  Do they have a great sense of humor?  Do they have any unusual habits or routines they follow?  What is a typical day like?  These are the kinds of things you need to know about your characters – not necessarily in that detail for minor characters, but definitely for your primary characters.

Do you write out a detailed description of your characters?  If not, you should.  There’s something about writing it down that helps bring it into focus.  Write down everything you know about them.  Even though you won’t put most of this in your novel it’s important to know your characters that well.

Of course, this may take some time.  You have to be patient and let it develop.  For example, I got the idea for Bishop’s Move several years ago.  It stemmed from an experience my dad had which I found fascinating.  Starting with that event, I came up with an intriguing idea for a novel.  But the main character, Harry Bishop, remained a little fuzzy.  So I had to put off starting the manuscript until I got to know him better.

I began by writing a two page description about the various stages of his life as he grew up, taking note of everything that happened that made him who he is today.  Then I went back and added details about his personal likes and dislikes – his preferences for music, his interests in sports and literature, his hobbies, etc.  Eventually I learned why he’s so guarded in his relationships and came to understand why he tends to keep people at a distance.  Oddly enough, I didn’t know his age or write down details about his appearance until I was well into the process of “getting to know” him.  But when I finished I had a very detailed, intimate knowledge of the main character of my novel.  As a result, now I don’t have to think too much about what he will do or say or how he will react to a situation because I know him so well.

It’s always tempting when you get a great idea to jump right in and start writing.  What I do instead is make lots of notes on plot ideas and scenes and start sketching out the characters.  But I don’t write anything that will be part of the actual manuscript until I know my main character very, very well.  Then a funny thing happens…he sort of takes over and tells me the story.  I’ll get into this aspect of writing in the articles on plot development.  But for now my advice is simple.  Take the time to get to know your characters and write down everything you know about them.  I think you will find this very useful in your character development.

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