Character Development In Fiction Writing: Michy's Take

I was asked yesterday about developing characters.

I wrote an article about this that you can read here: How To Develop Characters When Writing Fiction Novels.

Personally, I think the biggest mistake made when someone writes about a character is making them too one dimensional – all you see of the character is what is in the writing itself, and the reader just can’t really connect with or ‘feel’ the character as a real person.

Good fiction takes the reader on a journey through their own mind, and you have to realize that all readers are going to read your writing from their place in this world – they will relate what they read to events and people in their lives, their experiences.

The very best writing of all can draw a person into a story and have them experience something in an emotional response to the character or event, even if they have never even remotely experienced something similar.

But there’s really only one way you can make this happen.

You have to make your characters real.

They cannot be ‘people in a book’, but rather must be people, real people outside of that book, where you are only sharing a portion of their life experience in the book.

I was born in a small town in West Texas. I have never lived in a big city like New York City. How different would I be all other things being equal if I had lived in a big city?

My favorite color is not important when I’m a character in a book, but I wonder, do I adore the color of my husband’s eyes because they are crystal blue, and that is my favorite color? If I’m gazing into his eyes in the book as a character, do I get lost in those eyes because it reminds me of a memory from my childhood, and my favorite color is associated with that? If my favorite color were green, would I have married a green eyed man instead?

I think it’s important to understand that real live breathing people are not lump sum boom this is who we are – but rather, we are the sum of all these little things that make up who we are.

If you ask me who I am, as a person, you will never truly understand the answer unless you know certain things about me, such as: I left home at 15, I was a teen mother, I never graduated from high school but had honors in college, I love to drive but rarely leave me house, I am only ticklish on one place on my body and that place is extremely ticklish and can be used to torture me. I have naturally red hair, but the hair on my legs and my eyebrows grows in almost black. My skin is pale, with a light dusting of freckles, but not the type usually reserved for red-heads. My favorite food is chips and salsa, but as much as I love it, it doesn’t love me so I can’t eat it anymore. I love homemade spaghetti, but seafood is nearly orgasmic in my opinion.

I could go on and on about things… little things, and each and every one of those things makes up a part of who I am, helps me decide and make choices in my life, and makes me unique from everyone else.

I have a bad habit of chewing on my fingernail – just one hand, one finger – when I’m lost deep in thought. When I’m working on something, I’ll start getting a headache, and then I realize it’s because I’ve had my eyebrows raised up the whole time and it’s wearing out my forehead. My ex used to walk by and push my eyebrows down and make me laugh.

I am a mother, a lover, a woman… a friend, a daughter, a sister, a sister in law, and aunt, a cousin.

I have a chronic long-term illness that affects how I interact with other people.

I wear a size 11 woman’s shoe.

I wear a size HUGE bra.

When you are developing your characters, YOU, the writer, need to know all of these things about your character.

You’ll likely never put all of it in the book, in fact, if you did, your book wouldn’t be any good, but you need to be able to, in a split second, answer any question someone asks you about your character.

What’s his favorite color? Who is his favorite sports team? Does she like sex and if so why? How old is he or she? What’s their favorite food? Do they like long baths or quick hot showers?

Interview your character. Talk to him or her. Seriously, talk to them, let them answer, learn about them the same way you would learn about someone you were dating or going to marry and spend the rest of your life with – because if your book gets published, you just might!

My characters come to life for me.

Perhaps it’s an insanity spark in a good writer, but I talk to them and they talk to me. I know, sounds silly, but I’ve been awakened from a sound, peaceful sleep by a character in one of my books figuratively pounding on my head saying, “Hey, I thought of something I want you to write about.”

I’ve gone so far as to speak out loud to my characters and tell them to shut up when they don’t like something I’m doing to them in a book.

Ryan finds that amusing and laughs at me every time. I’m so glad he understand me.

I even had one character I didn’t like. He was mean, nasty and demanding. He never liked anything I wrote about him, and was constantly trying to take over my chapters and take control of the story.

So I killed him.

Shot him dead in chapter 11.

Being a writer is the only way to commit the perfect crime and literarily get away with murder.

So before you start writing your story, write and draw your character. If you know someone who is an artist, have them sketch your character so you an SEE him or her. Go to stock photo websites and search through photos of people who you think look like your character and save the photo on your computer to look at while you write to keep you focused on them as a real person.

Jot down the ‘little things’ about your character and who he or she is and what makes ’em tick.

Then, once you have all that and you have interviewed and talked to your character, you can sit down and start writing and you’ll find that your characters will be more than happy to lead you through their story.

Hope this helps!

Love and stuff,
Michy