Publish Insights 19 February 2022
As a writer of stories that require character development, do you find yourself getting emotionally attached to characters? Particularly for plots that unfold over 5000 or more words, the people can become real entities within your imagination. Going a step further, you might say that you become the people in your stories.
Before publishing an article, I sometimes wake up wondering how a character is faring with a particular adversity. Then I realize that it is something I that have the power to control, with the keyboard. Admittedly, this sometimes extends beyond the final draft. If, as a writer, you feel such an attachment, there is a good chance your readers will also.
To develop characters that are more than just names on a page, get within their minds. This requires transforming yours. Each individual may say and do things that you might not under similar circumstances.
Begin with a comprehensive profile of each character. What are their first and last names? Where are they from? Does their origin affect their accent? How old are they? Does their amount of education and secular experience influence their diction, comprehension, and choices?
What bad habits, proclivities, and motivations influence the decisions they make? Love, moral principles, addictions, or aspirations can be motivators for action. All these details help you to bring characters to life.
The next step is getting the characters involved in emotional events. Are they tender and compassionate or crass and irrational? Perhaps they manifest compassion only to a point. What triggers their personality change?
You will begin to feel drawn to or repelled against certain individuals. Not all will be warm. You may not even like or trust some of the fictional characters. A contrast is necessary to heighten attraction to key characters.
By developing a backstory, readers can understand reasons for emotional differences. Thus, they might even be drawn to someone who appears irrational.
In non-linear mysteries, some characters have hidden personalities that become evident as plots build. So feelings for people can change. The dichotomy of emotions engages readers. When characters face challenges, readers begin to root for the ones they endear.
Find a shocking news story or unsolved mystery. Change the names and fill in plausible events leading to a reasonable outcome.
Lengthy stories with many scenes can involve a broad cast of characters. Some people are extras with a single line or two. Your key character descriptions will help you keep track of each person.
Incidental characters with few lines may not require extensive profiles. If there are many, you might identify them with placeholders like F1, F2 (for first and second females) or M1 and M2 (for different males). This technique was used for The Room Between—a short story with over 11 characters. Later, you can research names with Scottish, Italian, Spanish, or other appropriate national heritage.
When you’re near story completion, search and replace the placeholders with real names. In doing so, try to select names that do not end with an “s” to prevent awkward grammatical possessives. Otherwise you can search “s’s” to replace with “s’.”
Endeavor to include clear distinction among names. Featuring an alliteration of character names like Mark, Marcus, Mary, and Mandy could cause you, as a writer, to assign lines to the wrong person. Even if you avoid this pitfall, readers may frequently regress to determine what is happening to whom.
Longing for the characters you create means that you have done a good job of developing their personalities. It may even inspire you to pen the sequel that your readers desire.