Lucy Crowe's Nest: "As Imagination Bodies Forth" : Tips On Character Development

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"As Imagination Bodies Forth" : Tips On Character Development

Copyright Quin Sweetman

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
- William Shakespeare (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Characters are the life blood of any novel, even the more action-oriented tale, and I have always felt as though they should be treated as such. With that in mind, and without further ado, I offer you a few classic tips – with, perhaps, a small Lucy twist – on bringing these folks to life.

  1. You have to know who they are. Of course. More than that, you should love them, even the bad guys. But I’m jumping ahead – let’s start with Love Your Protagonist. Ladies, if it’s a “he”, you need to give him that something that makes your heart trip a little faster. Now, this isn’t to say that he has to be hunk of the universe – in fact all the better if he isn’t (unless you’re shooting for fantasy!) But he does need to possess qualities that you, as the author, find appealing. Maybe this means a dimple in his chin, or a lovely singing voice – whatever works for you. The point is, if you find him desirable, that emotion will be all the easier to carry across to your reader.
  2. Loving an antagonist can be harder! But I find it so vital in bringing that character to life. Remember that you have created him, lol, and he deserves a multi-faceted existence as much as the next guy. I find it helpful to think about the circumstances pre-dating his “bad guy” status –  nobody is born rotten, right? You may not have a need to share his history with your reader, but file it away in your mind regardless. Understanding him will help you to make him more human and less flat.
  3. Another stepping stone in the path to creating a full-fledged person is to endow them with familiar characteristics. My main heroine has my daughter’s generosity and sensitivity. One of my firefighters has my son’s smile, his easy affability. It’s easier to get a handle on a personality when it is already familiar to you. After that, you can add in voice, mannerisms, speech habits – all because you already know that person, at least in part.
  4. Once you have created a personality, do not deviate from it! If your protagonist is a man of few words, and you catch him prattling, stop him. Don’t let your shy girl jump into a hot tub with a stranger. Staying true to character is a golden rule of writing for a reason, and your readers will call you out on it if you fail to do so.
           Finally, have fun! Remember, you are in a profession that allows you to play God - these tiny lives are in your hands from beginning to end. Try to be good to them! And enjoy!


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