What’s in a Character?

Michael Early Cowboy

Yep, that’s me. A rootin’, tootin’ cowboy during one of my earlier summer adventures. He’s much cuter than I am now–quite a character too!

Speaking of characters, inserting characters into works of fiction and then speaking through them in dialog is a fascination to me as a reader and a difficult ordeal as a writer.

I have watched TV sitcoms and dramas that were easily seen as successful, or not, solely based on the chemistry of the selected cast. Obviously the writing must be good and the character credibility must be apparent, but the interplay, timing and transitions between the chosen characters can instantly attract audiences or lose appeal just as fast.  I find that works of fiction play out much the same. There is a chemistry that must be developed between all the characters in your book. It actually begins by choosing eye-catching, memory-banking names. I have read books where I have had to flip back several pages to be reminded who was who. Characters must also have a back story that allows credibility for all of their actions and behaviors. It helps if the reader can identify the character’s philosophy and attitudes. And finally, the dialog must belong to the character and not the writer, as though the writer were merely recording what the character is saying. Putting all of your characters together so that the chemistry produces the necessary draw is the magic we, as writers, all beg to offer. It all begins with creating independently interesting characters with believable back stories that the reader can relate to.

All of this is not an easy task. One way to attempt good character development is to mirror characteristics from people you know. Not exact replicas, but hybrids of personalities, appearances and tones that yield a unique specimen for your book. It’s like blending plums and apricots to get a pluot, (a real fruit). Even more difficult though is the back story. If you don’t know the blended personalities well, creating a back story can appear stilted, lacking depth and color (as in contrast, nature and complexion). You can be as creative as you like but you will need some contextual bracketing for your creative process, i.e., characters you have read, seen on TV, interacted with in business or met socially.

Another way to invent the back story is to dissect your own personality to find the other people living within then develop that part of you, inserting the product into the genome of your character.

How do you develop your characters?