In the Yin Yang of writing the two major parts of any novel are Plot & Characters. Without a plot, you are simply writing a conversation about a few characters who don’t seem to go anywhere or do anything. Without characters, you end up with a wonderful tale about cookie cutter people who do some amazing things for being Polaroid pictures.
In writing, as in life, it is all about balance. Today we will look at six ways you, the eager writer, can flesh out the characters of your novel and bring them to life before the reader’s very eyes. So, without further ado, drum roll please… drum roll? Oh never mind:
- Coffee & a Chat – A great way to get to know your characters is to have a conversation with them. (It is also a great way to be diagnosed with a mental illness!) Brew up your favorite cup of coffee, sit down at your writing desk with pen and paper, or laptop and strike up a chat with the character. Treat them as if you just met clandestinely at your local coffee shop and now you want to know all about them. Ask them where they are from, who their parents are, where they went to school, their hopes, their dreams, their loves and schemes. Become their best friend.
- “Tell me aboutz your relationship wit yer mudder…” – That’s right, apply some good old Freudian psychology. Understanding a person or a character’s relationship can tell you a lot about them. So, have your character flop down on the leather sofa, pull out your clipboard and scribble down all of the things they talk about when it comes to their relationships.
- More psychology – A great tool, for understanding anyone, is the Meyer-Briggs’ Personality Test Instrument (MBTI). It uses Jungian psychology to assess a person and label them according to a spectrum of introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. Perhaps you’ve taken it, perhaps you haven’t. If you have not, I suggest taking it for yourself, to get an understanding of the questions and results. Once you are done, go back through and take it as your character. Understanding their personality type can be a great way to understand the character. (I’m an INFJ if you were interested 😉 ).
- Writing Prompts – You can find tons of these in books and on the internet. Here are just a few:
- Do all of these from your character’s point of view. They can be a great help to gaining insight into them. Which do I use, you ask? -à http://www.amazon.com/The-A-M-Epiphany-Exercises-Transform/dp/1582973512
- Table-top Roleplaying Games – Ever heard of a little game that came out 40 years ago called Dungeons & Dragons? Wait, you’re not writing an epic fantasy in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien? You’re not going to be the next murderous author like G.R.R. Martin? You’re writing a horror/mystery/suspense/thriller/romance in outer space? Guess what? There’s a game for that. That’s right, find an RPG that corresponds to the genre and theme of your novel and create your character in it. Maybe even play a few games as them, it might give you a better understanding of how they make choices.
- Write, Write, Write – That’s right, write as your character. Even if your novel will be written in the First, Second, Third person omniscient point of view, write from the character’s perspective about… anything. Write about what they did on their summer vacation. Write about the time their parents took away the keys to their car because the put it in a ditch. Write about their first love. Every time you put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, writing about their history, you’ll gain another diamond to polish and perhaps incorporate into your novel.
There you have it. Six easy ways to get to know your characters and present them as living, breathing people to your readers. I hope this helps, Cheers!