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Getting To Know Your Characters Better

February 8th, 2019

First, thanks to Kunda for last week’s blog – it’s always interesting to hear how our overseas students get a foot on the writing ladder. It just goes to show that the ideas taught in the course are universal. Wherever you live, they still apply!

Some writers find bringing their characters to life easy – they spring from the imagination fully formed and ready to go. Others don’t find it quite so easy. So, here are a few tips for making your characters more real.

Obviously, you’ve got to give them a name – one that is appropriate to the era and country in which your work is set. The name should also be appropriate to their age, social circumstances and disposition – unless incongruity in this area forms part of your plot. And, don’t forget that names that were once considered old fashioned are now all the rage. My mum, who would now be 103 were she still alive, was called Edith and as a child I remember many of her older relatives referring to her as Edie. So I was surprised recently to hear that one of my son’s friends has named her baby daughter Edie!

Next, make a profile of their physical features: build, height, hair/eye/skin colour. If you can’t see exactly what you want in your mind’s eye then trawl through magazines, newspapers and online until you find what you want and then visualise this image as you are writing about them.

Think about their fashion sense, or lack of it – this can say a lot about a person. What do they do for a living or are they retired/unemployed? What do they enjoy doing in their leisure time? What would be their favourite book/film/music? Do they have lots of friends or are they loaners? Where were they born? Were they only children or did they have lots of siblings (someone particularly close)? How do they speak? What are their like and dislikes? Do they have any pets? Do they have any problems and what are their goals in life? What motivates them? These final three are usually crucial to the plot.

Start a file with profiles for all your MAJOR characters (too much information about minor characters can become tedious).But remember, you don’t want to burden your reader with too many details – this pulling together of information is to make your life easier.

Never stop the story to paint a pen picture of a character. Feed in only the details that are truly needed, in small drips – select only those elements that are essential to the plot and for your reader to understand the character’s motivation. Only dwell on someone’s appearance if there’s something unusual, extreme or remarkable about it. It can be particularly effective if you can show your protagonist through another character’s eyes rather than through direct exposition.

Another effective method is to give your main character a behavioural quirk. Do they frown when thinking, stutter when talking, dunk biscuits in coffee or insist that all the tins in the kitchen cupboards are lined up in military precision? These little traits reveal so much about us – much more than we intend.

It really is worthwhile doing some planning and making in-depth profiles for your main characters, as it will help you to keep them consistent – and more believable – throughout your novel.

My guest next week is one of the runners-up in our 2019 Student of the Year Award – Cheryl Russell – who’ll be explaining how she got to grips with the not-always-straightforward task of publishing her own books.

Author: Diana Nadin

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About The Author: Diana Nadin

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