We all know the struggle of coming up with a name for a character, but what comes after that?
Next to crafting a plot, I believe that the art of creating a realistic character is one of the hardest things to master as a writer. However, hopefully this post will lend a hand to any struggling writers out there agonising over personality traits, family backgrounds and character motivations.
First of all, although writing, to some people, is separate from reality, many writers tend to base their characters on someone they know in real life. For instance Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ play: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ was influenced by Williams’ sister, Rose Williams. She also inspired the character of Laura Wingfield in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’
In doing this, the writer produces a character who is, even at the drafting stage, more three dimensional. This technique gives the writer a foundation to work on and then perhaps adapt later in the writing process. Basing a character on a real person gives you the chance to notice the details that create a realistic character. You’re more likely to notice and include unique habits, such as whether fidget, what their body language is like when they’re lying and how they react to stress. All this is fundamental to helping you construct a convincing protagonist and identifying what it is that makes them tick.
After you have the basis for a character, it’s time to start hammering the heated metal block into shape. It’s time to start laying down the internal structure of the character, giving them depth and personality.
The way I like to do this is carry out a series of interviews with the character, either through role play (otherwise known as talking to myself) or a written journalistic style interview.
Here’s a brief step by step guide for how to go about doing this, however please note that this is YOUR interview, you get to do what you like and shouldn’t feel the need to be restricted by this simple guide!
- Choose a setting. Where are you meeting this person? In a bar? In their apartment? In Central Park South? Think carefully about where you are likely to meet your character and take a moment to imagine the surroundings, what they might be wearing and what they’re doing.
- Begin your ‘interview.’ It’s time to approach your character, or perhaps they’ll be the one to initiate the conversation, if they happen to be that sort of person. They might even ignore you, but either way begin your relationship with this character and start to find out all about them.
- Carry the conversation. Ask your character questions, as you would when you meet someone for the first time. What are they doing here? What are they called? What would they recommend on the menu? Here is where you begin to shape their thought patterns and general characteristics. Think about how they sit as they talk, if they tap their fingers, if they even pay much attention to you.
- Make notes once you’ve had a little chat, make a note of things that worked and ignore the excess that didn’t.
- Repeat It takes time to get to know someone, so repeat this process as often as you like, whenever you like. If you happen to be out and find yourself in a place that reminds you of your character, place them there and observe.
I hope this general guide will help any writers out there to build a character and develop their own techniques and skills to add to their toolkit.