Take Five: #7: Developing characters

Take Five
Five-minute reads about writing
to help you with NaNoWriMo
Nov. 1 - Nov. 30, 2011
Courtesy: Sasha Soren (Random Magic)

#7: Developing characters

If you don't have someone to follow, you don't have a story. And a story might not necessarily be about what happens, but about the people involved and how they react. So, characters are important. Not only important, but crucial, because it's people, not plot, that add emotional resonance to your story.

Today, writer Diane Chamberlain (shown above) talks about developing characters that're believable and have a back story for who or what they are or might become. Keep in mind, too, that even when you have a solid grasp on a character and where they're coming from - they might not always say or do things in a predictable way:

Transcript (excerpt): My favorite technique in creating characters is what I call the character autobiography...

In this particular technique, I'd sit in a comfortable chair with a pad and a pen, put myself in a light trance, and begin to channel one of my characters. I would write down everything that my character was telling me, in first person. It's amazing the things that you can learn from your characters, if you'll just open yourself up to them.

Now that I'm very comfortable with the technique of character autobiography, I use it in a very informal way, and I use it quite often. If I'm confused by what's going on in the story, If i'm [puzzled] by the way a character's behaving or if I'm just blocked, I'll often push myself away from my desk, close my eyes, and ask a character [a series of questions]:

- What's going on?
- How are you feeling?
- How do you feel about this other character in the story?

The answers I get are sometimes pure gold. In [one particular work] for example, a minor character in the story gave me an answer that totally shocked me, and took the story in a completely different - and better - direction. 
#End of transcript#

Here are some simple questions to ask yourself while developing your characters. You don't have to answer all of them, but if you answer some of them, that will help bring on additional detail that you might not even have been thinking about.

You don't have to make up a huge list of features on characters, just pretend you're telling a friend about someone you know whom they haven't met yet.

Physical features

What is his or her name?
More importantly: What animal would you associate with him or her?

What does he or she look like?
More importantly: What feature is most distinctive and for what reason?


Here are some other questions to consider. If you have five minutes, then feel free to select one of the five questions and answer it for yourself, right now:

What word best characterizes his or her personality?
What five physical items would make the most sense for your character to own?
How would he or she react to a sudden danger?
What is an important thing that he or she has lost or discovered?
How would this person make a sandwich? (For example - hastily or impatiently, with care, slowly, would they want something spicy or bland, familiar or exotic, and so on.)

About this series

The Take Five series is curated by Sasha Soren, author of Random Magic. You can find out more about the book here, if you like:

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