Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Secret Sauce to Character Development

Or how not to make your character look like a turkey.

I've read plenty of books on character development. Filling out six page profiles. Answering questionnaires. Writing biographies.  My advice is screw it.  You came into this wanting to be writer, not an HR manager.

Here are my six easy steps.

1. Start writing. If it's a novel, do around 10K words. For a short story, most likely the whole thing. This is not fixed, but you want to be at a point where you know what you want in your characters.

2. Find a key characteristic or two that sets the character apart from the rest. Make sure you have some well-defined, unique traits. Big Mike is mean. Old Lady Grayson pinches pennies.

3. Name them.  Think about it carefully because the name must match the person. Is he Michael or Mike or Big Mike or Mikey? Each one conjures up a different image.

4. How do they look?  No one cares about hair color or the shade of their eyes.  But Old Lady Grayson's hump is getting bigger, or half of Big Mike's left ear was shot off.  Guaranteed no one will forget them.

5. What do your characters sound like? They all talk differently. They will have tag lines.  You have to hear them. "Hey! You wanna settle it out back in the alley?" Bet you know it's not Old Lady Grayson speaking.

6. If you can link them up with someone you know or someone from real life, great! Just be careful of too much coincidence and maybe toss in a disclaimer at the beginning that any resemblance to people living or dead is poorly coincidence.

That's it.  Too simple?  The most memorable characters are the ones that stand off the page.  And don't fret about being too one dimensional. Big Mike may just have a tender moment, and Old Lady Grayson will find some way of giving back.

So what's your secret to writing a slam-bang character?


  1. If I had a secret, would it still be a secret if I shouted it on the internet? Not sure I know how to write a slam-bang character, so I guess I have to try your recipe and put it into the oven.

  2. What's the fun of a secret if you can't tell the world.