A character is the cornerstone of the story you want to tell your readers. I have always been an avid reader and I was fascinated during my growing years with the process of creating characters. Imagine building an entity from scratch with unique characteristics and giving it layers and dimensions! It is powerful. It is magical. It is beautiful. Some of my favourite characters became such an integral part of my life that even today, I spasmodically imagine how they would react or behave in a particular situation.
When I stepped into the world of professional writing, I realized that character development, like all other aspects of creative writing, is both art and craft. It is fluid as well as methodical. I remember after I published my first ever fictional story online, I strongly felt there was something amiss in it. Though I received positive and encouraging feedback from my readers but the writer in me was not at ease. This restlessness impelled me to revisit my story multiple times and eventually I figured out that the protagonists’ characterization was not up to the mark. I had invested time and effort to carve out the key character, but had fallen short of breathing her.
From then on, it has been a continuous process of learning and evolving. I came to recognize that however much interesting or powerful your story might be, if the characters are half baked then the impact is always bland. Over the years, after a bit of trial and error, I have devised an approach towards creating memorable characters which now has become a fundamental facet of my writing process.
Not Vanilla – A character is a complete being. Therefore, it becomes imperative that we think of the one we begin to create as a complete being too. The corporal, psychological, moral and behavioural dimensions of the character being sketched need to be constructed in parallel as they are often interlinked. That’s because sometimes, appearance of the character might impact the psychology which in turn could be a determinant of the conduct. I like to draw an analogy of the characters we create to the ice-creams we relish. While Vanilla is where it starts and maybe nice, the fun is in the variety of permutations and combinations of different flavours and toppings. Layers and fine nuances make for delightful and memorable characters. I work in iterations as I go back and forth several times to delve deep and to eliminate inconsistencies.
Some questions that I ask myself while making notes as a starting point are:
- How does my character look?
- What does my character do?
- How does my character behave?
- What are the peculiar and daily habits of my character?
- What is the origin/ethnicity of my character?
- Where does my character live?
- Who is my character surrounded by?
- What are the mental struggles and fears, if any of my character?
- What are the hobbies of my character?
- What does my character care strongly about?
- How does my character perceive the world?
- What is my character’s view on worldly matters?
Think of the back-story always – Now this is something I do even for my micro tales which involve just a 100 words! I always give a back-story to my characters irrespective of whether it is going to be a part of my main story or not. This helps me to be aware of how my characters would act or respond in specific circumstances or situations. It also aids in understanding why my characters are the way they are. Back-stories give me a connecting point to identify with my characters and not let them get clouded by my own beliefs and ideologies as a person. This is a crucial step in my character development process and is extremely valuable in adding authenticity, gravitas and individuality to the characters I build.
Make the character a part of your life – I let my character exist beyond the pages of my story. I make it a part of my life. This has led to my husband thinking at times that I have gone bonkers but this has ensured that I know my characters at the back of my hand. So, as I go around executing the daily, mundane tasks, my character tugs along with me too. I breathe and absorb the character as this makes the story-telling easier when I get down to it. Because then your character starts narrating the tale to you and you just become the mediator between the characters and the pages.
Well fleshed-out characters can take even an average story a notch higher. Every character in a story is important and should be indispensable to it. As someone has rightly said, “Character Development gives you a chance to dig deeper and deeper and deeper into a person”.
What are your thoughts? Do share it in the comments, please.
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