When I first started developing characters for my stories, I followed the suggestions and filled out lists of details. But the thing that struck me was that I didn’t feel any closer to my characters, and this came across in my work. Sure I knew what clothes they wore, what they looked like, their background, etc, and while this information was still prudent, it didn’t answer the question – what really makes the character tick and why.
And the reason is because people identify themselves by who they are, and the same applies to characters. For example, I’m a wife, a writer, a marketer, a sister, a daughter. How does your character see himself or herself?
Let’s take the female character in the photo above, and say she is a demon hunter. We’ll call her D-girl. I’m going to say D-girl is a hunter on the run from other hunters who accuse her of killing one of their own. D-girl is a hunter, mother and executioner.
Now I want to know why she calls herself those things. Spell it out for each attribute. For example, she is a hunter because she grew up on the streets. The reason she grew up on the streets was because her parents were killed by demons and she saw it all (I know it’s a cliché, but you get the idea). Her parents were killed by demons because they agreed to help a demon, and didn’t fulfill their end of the bargain. Now the demons are hunting down D-girl as payment for her parents’ betrayal, and set her up against her own team. D-girl is angry with her parents as a result. If she does not kill the demon, she will just pass the blight to her own daughter. I like to torture my characters, so I might consider having her daughter possessed by a demon to raise the stakes.
This has already fleshed out D-girl a bit and her motivation, as well as established some of her personality. D-girl might have to sacrifice her life so her daughter will live a normal life. This is something she believes in, and hence drives her behavior and actions.
I’ll do this with all my main characters to understand where they are coming from and why. I want to know their motivations. From here, I flesh out the details from the character lists, and ask my character these questions, based on the above.
D-girl might tell me she only wears leather pants because it makes her feel tough and sexy, and that she always carries holy water in her back pocket for when she meets a demon or is thirsty.
This is the fun part where I discover things about my characters. I have characters overlapping each other, so there might be a romantic encounter for example. But each character has their own motivation, hence each one is real and the reader can relate to them. For added tension, have character motivations clash. That’ll cause conflict:)
Please note, this fictional character and story idea are completely made up by me on the spot. It’s not related to any other piece of work.