Techniques for Building Rounded Characters: Part One

Sunday 24 August 2014 by

Part One

Characters are such a central part of any fiction. Without characters to relate to and root for, we can’t engage in the story.

But how do you go about creating the sort of character that someone can like and get behind? How do you draw a person out of thin air?

While the process, for me and I think a lot of people, is largely trial and error, there are a number of techniques you can use to get inside your characters head and start to get to know them better.

Base Them on What You Know

A bit of a risky technique – you don’t want people to think you’re watching their every move and using it in your fiction – but one way to start thinking about character is to think about the people you know.

Take traits from several different people and combine them to create someone completely new. Your friend’s confidence, your brother’s insecurity, your colleague’s annoying habit – they can all be mined for inspiration. Just be sure to mix things up. We all like to recognise elements of ourselves in characters. But not too much.

Character Questionnaires.

Character questionnaires are a common technique. A basic Google search will pull up loads of them, but this list on Writeworld is a pretty good start.

Questionnaires range from basic ‘height, weight, age’ sort of questions to more in-depth questions about political leanings and philosophical beliefs. You can go as detailed as you like – one of the questionnaires on the Writeworld list has 382 questions! – or use a more basic questionnaire as a starting point.

I’ll confess – I hate them. I have tried to fill them in before, but found them only a useful way to procrastinate. A lot of the details you think of won’t be relevant to your story, and though having a master list of eye and hair colour is useful, I can’t imagine why you would need to reference some of the other stuff that comes up on these questionnaires. However, they do help you to get to know what sort of person your character is, so even if you never need to mention what lengths your character would go to defend their faith, knowing that they’d do anything tells you something about them that might be relevant in another situation.

Stream of Consciousness Free Writing

As part of your ‘pre-writing’ exercises, an interesting method to get inside your character’s head is to ‘free write’ from their perspective. Free writing is where you write the first things that come into you head, keeping going even if it doesn’t make much sense, or doesn’t flow well. The idea is that it accesses your subconscious, rather than worrying about what you write, you just write anything. 90% of it might be unusable, but the 10% left might provide useful insights into your character.

Set yourself a time limit – say ten minutes – and write continuously for that period of time, without stopping to check grammar, spelling or anything. Write from the perspective of your character and see what they come out with.

Stay tuned for part 2!

You can follow Loralei on Twitter: @LAHaylock

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