It’s one of the oldest pieces of writing advice that to write good characters you must know them well. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it can sometimes be a lot harder than it sounds. If we start with the basics of learning about our characters, we can Google whole lists of questions that we should be asking:
When I published Intention, how Gillian (my protagonist) made her tea was one of the hot topics – aside from her being a psychopath, that is. So, these fine details do count for something.
In asking questions of our characters we build them into something authentic. But this doesn’t just mean giving them the good bits or the quirky bits of humanity; sometimes it means giving them the rotten elements, too, which is where developing character comes in.
While you shouldn’t have a whole book of characters who are severely unhinged (I mean, sure, it would be interesting, but where’s your hook?), you also shouldn’t construct a cast of angels either. For me, after I’ve dealt with all the basics I like to move on to the existential:
And, perhaps the most important of them all…
Character motivation is essential to so much in a story: plot arcs, pacing, satellite characters – the list could go on! Working out what your character wants and what that motivation can bring to your work is hugely beneficial, not least because it pads out your protagonist/antagonist. In the bid to develop our characters better we need to know them from the inside out; which is to say, we need to know them as well as we know ourselves (on a good day). You can also yourself:
All of us – humans, not characters – have something that drives us and, likewise, all of us have things or people that bring out the worst in us. While it might take some time to develop your character with all of these things, it will surely be worth it when someone reads a chapter of your someday novel and says, “Wow, I do that too…”