Every single person on this planet is different. We are all born with a set of personality traits and then the environment, our experiences and how we interpret and respond to them, affect our personality. An easy way to think of this is that each personality trait we have, whether it’s agreeableness, adaptability, or domineering, is a ruler. Our genetics set the ends of that ruler, while our environment gives us an exact position on that ruler.
For instance, let’s look at trustfulness of others. Zero centimeters equals one-hundred percent trustful. Twenty centimeters equals one-hundred percent distrustful. You may have been born at zero (completely trusting of others), but your life experiences (and your interpretation of those experiences) have shifted you to fifteen centimeters. You are now pretty distrustful of others.
But your maternal twin sibling, who has the same genetics as you hasn’t had the same life experiences. Therefore, your sibling, though starting at zero is now at an eight. Your sibling is a lot more trustful of others than you are.
The same applies to characters. They begin at one point and as they continue on in life (during the course of the story) they change. The best way to have them change? Let bad things happen to them.
There’s nothing stronger than good characters being forced to take action against bad things. Just as people make mistakes and don’t have the perfect responses to every situation, so do characters. Each action has a consequence, and with each decision a character makes, and each ramification that character must then face, you get to know that character a little bit more.
You don’t have to know their souls right off the bat. The essence of a character gets revealed through the difficult decisions they have to make, and you probably won’t be able to figure out what decision they’ll make until they’re faced with it. However, some things to know from the start are:
- What does your character look like? Age?
- What’s the first impression they give off? (If a stranger was walking down the street and spotted your character, what impression would that stranger get of your character?)
- What does your character care most about in the world?
- What’s their personality at the beginning of the story?
What your character does and says is a direct result of who they are. If your image of your character is fuzzy, it will be fuzzy for readers.
Like a photograph, make sure your characters are fully developed before you show them off to the world. After all, your characters hold the story together.
How do you get to know your characters?