Characters are the most important element in writing a fiction story. No matter how good your story is, if you don’t have believable characters that your readers can relate to, no one will enjoy reading it. They probably won’t even finish it.
The first thing to do when developing a character for a story is to write a thorough description. You need to be able to see the character in your mind if you want to make your readers see them. Go beyond the basic looks, each character needs distinguishing marks, a stance, or a accent in their dialogue, something that will stick in the reader’s mind every time that character comes up. Never over-describe a character, there’s no fine line here but you want to let the reader supply some of the details on their own, this is especially true for your lead character. Many if not most readers like to picture themselves as your leading character, by leaving out some of the details you’ll make this possible for more people.
The second thing to do when creating a character is to write a character sketch. This is where you develop their personality. Write down everything that comes to mind about the character, you never know when the smallest idiosyncrasy or habit from the character sketch may show up in the story line.
Here are a few things to consider when developing a character
What kind of relationship did they have with their parents and siblings or other family members?
What about their obsessions, what some people refer to as pet-peeves? Most people have at least one and knowing what it is can be a big insight into their personality.
What are their vices? Unfortunately everyone has them even if they are well hidden.
Do they have a hobby?
Do they collect anything?
What are they proud of or embarassed about?
What are their talents or strengths?
What are their flaws or weaknesses?
Do they have a favorite color?
What kind of music do they like?
Which is their favorite season or holiday?
Are they open and sociable or shy and withdrawn?
What drives or motivates your character?
What are their hopes and dreams for the future?
What sort of turning points did they have in their life? Was it the death of someone close? A success or failure? A right or wrong decision?
What are they afraid of? Sometime our fears determine who and what we are more so than any other thing in life.
These are only a few examples, any little quirks you can come up with will make your characters more realistic and believable. You want things that your readers will relate to. Most people enjoy the books or stories more if they can see themselves as one of your characters.
The next thing that needs to be done is to write a biography for each character, a history. I find it more useful to write it as an autobiography, from the character’s point of view. This is extremely important if you are to make them believable in print. Whenever possible, I use someone I know as a base for the character. I’ve found that doing this will make them seem more realistic, it tends to give them an authentic flavor as it were.
Another method that some writers use when developing a character is to do an interview with each character. A good session of questions and answers will often give you more depth into the personality of the characters, one that you wouldn’t get any other way. The best way that I have found to conduct the interviews is what I refer to as the “Rapidfire” method. This is done by writing without stopping to think or edit. I always use a pen and paper just as if I were interviewing a real world person, you can type it and worry about spelling later. Don’t prepare the questions in advance either, let the answer you get to one question determine what your next question will be. Let the character answer each question with the first thought that comes to mind without censoring. Have fun with it, this in and of itself is not a great work of literature, you’re just getting to know your characters.
I’ve always found that drawing up a character tree showing how all the characters relate to and interact with each other helps to keep me from making drastic mistakes and overlaps. If you have only three or four characters this is probably superfluous, but if you have a lot of characters as I do in most of my stories it is an indispensable tool.
In conclusion; always remember, the more real a character is to you, the more real they will be to your readers.