How do you make the people in your fiction (longer fiction especially) well-rounded, believable individuals that the reader might care about?
In short stories it isn’t always necessary to know all the details about a character, for example it may be enough to know that the heroine is a grandmother and not her exact age or her previous profession (if any). But when attempting to write something longer, facts like these become important so that the writer can concoct a suitable back story for the lady, so it may be useful to know in what decade she was a teenager, at what age she left full-time education and whether or not she became a working mother. The life which the grandmother lived before the novel opens will have a bearing on how she acts and reacts within the story – so both the author and the reader need to know what went before.
Some writers advocate filling in a questionnaire about each character, covering physical appearance, hobbies, education etc (a sample questionnaire can be found on Stewart Ferris’ website here). This is a useful way of keeping track of facts such as eye colour and height (easy things to forget as you get deeper into the plot).
However, I find it very hard to just jot down a sentence or two about the big things such as a character’s personality, attitude to life and motivation. In order to get know a protagonist I have to start writing scenes from his or her point of view. It’s only as I write that I realise what I don’t know about a character and therefore what I need to put into their back story to make them act in a certain way in the present. This means I don’t do much planning before I write because I have to write in order to create the characters.
Some writers cut pictures from magazines and use these as prompts for their characters. But this only covers their physical appearance – so I’m not sure it would help me.
Nicola Morgan advocates interviewing your main character (her list of suggested questions is here and they are pretty searching!) Most of these I couldn’t have answered when I initially decided on the people I needed in my story but now I’ve written a bit from each point of view I’m going to pretend I’m a chat show host and start asking questions.
What about you – how do you develop your characters?