I’ve never fully bought into the notion that characters talk to their author. I’ve always felt it’s just something writers tell themselves to explain the voices in their head. I do, however, believe that the better writer knows their character before they even sit down to write, the more well-rounded and believable they’ll be. Here are my five go-to tips for coaxing characters out of your head and on to the page.
Give them backstory:
A wise person once said (or maybe just posted on Pinterest) that the best way to know where you’re going in life it to look at where you’ve been. That applies to characters too. Whether you include it your novel or not, giving your characters a fully realized past will make their present more believable, and help guide their future actions.
Have them write you letters:
This is my actually a technique shared with me by one of my mentors and I have to admit it works. Sit down and have, not just your main character, but your supporting characters write you a letter to explain themselves, their motivations, their side of the story. You’ll be surprised at how much better you understand them when you…write a mile in their shoes? Something like that.
Use the five senses.
Defining how a character smells immediately gives the readers a visceral sense of who they are. Likewise, the pitch of their voice, the sound of their laughter helps bring a character in sharp focus. How they taste? Yep, that too, and not just in love scenes or serial killer thrillers.
Think about how and where they live.
Yes, my main character is a decorator so maybe I’m a little biased about this one, but giving readers a glimpse of a character’s living space is like a visual Myers Briggs Test. But take it a step further and show how they live too. Eating a microwave dinner in front of the television every night? Bringing home a different lover every weekend? Compulsively polishing a ceramic kitty collection? You get the picture and so will your readers.
Give them a quirk
Perfect is boring. Letting your character’s freak flag fly a little can help endear them to the reader. Does your character like looking in other people’s medicine cabinets, shoplift, have 100 red lipsticks, cyberstalk on the first date? If that quirk can get them in – or out of –trouble, all the better!
Hope these tips help take some of the mystery out of creating believable characters. And speaking of mysteries, I hope you’ll check our mine, Murder on the First Day of Christmas.