Writing Fiction: Developing Characters

Developing characters is a job. You create out of whole cloth, or you cannibalize traits from people you know or have seen. What else can you do, to make three-dimensional characters readers fall in love with?

One method is to write a short story about them. This is not for publication, although Jennifer Crusie has published hers (Crazy People: The Crazy For You Stories), but is a tool for you to get to know your characters better. 

The objective is just to think for a few moments about your character, and then write several pages about them. Some things will bubble up from your subconscious (Jennifer Crusie calls them the girls in the basement), and you’ll be surprised at what useful bits will result.

I use various methods. I think of actors/actresses who would be cast in the movie, just for the visual of what the character looks like. I think of people I know and borrow traits from them. I do a Tarot spread (see the Creating Characters post), which is a seven card spread that looks at the following:

1. Character’s Past
2. Character’s Present
3. Character’s Future
4. Character’s Secret/Subconcious Influences
5. Character’s Hopes/Fears
6. Character’s Worldview
7. Character’s Worldview Continued

This gives me something unexpected to think about. Whether I use any of the information from the Tarot spread, I always have something come up that hadn’t occurred to me. That’s the point of any character-building exercise: Think outside of the box, and make your characters as real as you can.

One way I know my writing has improved is that my character’s aren’t cartoons. In the beginning, they were extremes: of bad traits, of good traits. Real people are a mix of good and bad. 

Just FYI – mystery writers kill the people who annoy them in real life (fictitiously, of course). 

Let me know what you think of these methods, or if something else works for you!