Character development is the lifeblood of a novel. Without dynamic characters, the story–no matter how great the plotline–will fall flat. Characters must be active, meaning they must change in some way throughout the course of the story. At the same time, they must be real.
“The character must be produced on the page, whole and alive, his breath congealing on the air. It is not necessary that we know instantly what he is, for it is the process of learning about him that interests us.” ~ Oakley Hall
Everything Oakley says is very true. We, as writers, can and should adhere to this advice. In order to do just that, we must first establish a deep connection with our characters.
Below, are five tips that will help you establish a deep connection with your characters that will provide you the building blocks for character development in your novel.
Write What You Know
The common catch phrase, write what you know, contains much truth. Think back to a time in your earlier years when something happened to you that changed your life for the better or for the worst. Reflect on that situation. How did you cope? What did you do to channel your emotions? How did you interact with other people at that time? Was it an experience that was so bad that the only way you could find resolve was to run away and start your life anew? Write the first thing that comes to mind and let the words flow from your brain. You would be surprised at how well you can recollect events from your past.
You don’t have to write a memoir in order to make your story real. Your story and your characters can be very real if you intend to have your characters endure similar life changing events as you have had. If you write a story based around what you know well, the plot line and characters will develop naturally because your passion and knowledge will show.
Establish the Environment
The environment in which your characters live in has a very profound effect on them and determines how they grow. For example, Samuel La Font resides in France in the year 1793. He is a former military Captain and advisor to the deposed Louis XVI. The revolution has stripped him of his title and he was forced to hide his wealth in order to escape death underneath the guillotine. Samuel is now faced with two choices: escape France with his family and friends or risk death and fight the revolutionaries. This character’s actions depends on his attitude towards the dire situation he is faced with.
When you throw your characters into some kind of environment, you allow them to thrive and grow based on the problems that they encounter in that environment.
Have your Characters Speak to You
Have your characters speak to you as if you are a show host and they are the interviewees. In this case, let them respond to your question, ‘Can you tell me about yourself?’ Don’t interrupt them, just let them speak. Since it is all recorded on paper, you would call a paragraph, or page of dialogue, a monologue.
I did that with my characters from To be Maria as part of my character profile.
Here is a short snippet from what my main character, Anya Preschnikov had to say to me about her life as being the poor kid attending a school full of wealthy kids.
“Having to be surrounded by rich kids day in and day out, five days a week sucks. I’ve known most of these people since junior high and I still haven’t wooed over the popular kids. In junior high, I was labeled “weirdo” and “loser” and no one has gotten over that.”
Having your characters speak to you–via written monologue–will enable you to establish a deep connection with them. It will also give you a greater understanding of their overall attitude towards life.
Have your Characters Speak About Each Other
Another great way to connect with your characters is to have them speak about each other. This will also enable them to form relationships–good and bad–based on their attitudes.
Here is what Carly Newman (the antagonist) and Maria Hernandez (the second main character) had to say about Anya.
Maria: “There is one girl in two of my classes. She is actually really pretty, but her style is so homely. Her clothes are frumpy. They do nothing for her looks and–she is so shy. No one talks to her except for this skinny little geek boy. Ugh! Who would want to date him? Her name is Anya and even her hair style is way out of date. It’s long, straight, almost down to her waist and dirty blond. Normally, I don’t waste my time with losers, but somehow I don’t think this girl is a loser. I believe that somewhere beneath the surface of her skin is a girl with spunk, passion and spirit.”
Carly: “God! Anya is such a loser. Why would a person like Maria even want to associate with such a low-life weirdo?”
Give Your Characters a Physical Body
In your head, you know exactly what your characters look like, physically. If you are a writer who is lucky enough to know how to draw well, draw your characters and give them all the fine details their bodies would feature, like they are real people you know personally. Draw them with clothes on because that way you get an even better idea of what kinds of clothes they like to wear based on their preferred lifestyle.
If you do not know how to draw, you can as easily give your characters a physical body through description. Remember, description can just as readily allow readers to visualize a character’s physical appearance as can drawings.
All of these tips are very effective in building writer-character relationship in that they will enable you, the writer, to establish a meaningful connection with your characters. The writer-character connection is what gives life to characters, a life that not only you can relate to, but many potential readers.