“When characters are really alive before their author, the latter
does nothing but follow them in their action.”
Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author
Building believable characters is one of the foremost challenges of nay fiction writer. Most seasoned authors will tell you that characters come first in their stories or “The plot grows from the characters: a plot and characters grow together,” as Joan Aiken puts it in her fabulous guide, The Way to Write for Children. Here are some tips from Joan, who wrote novels for both children and adults, on creating full-souled characters:
Think hard about your characters: their clothes, food, dreams, ailments, inner thoughts, daily habits must all be very familiar to you, though only a fraction of this background will be revealed to your readers.
Listen to your characters: When writing “make an effort to hear your characters’ voices in your mind’s ear.”
Flesh out your characters: Once you have half-formed characters, flesh them out by “borrowing” intriguing or irritating attributes from friends or acquaintances.
Animate your characters: rather than using flat description, use dialogue and action to display a character’s nature and habits (I’m working on this for my YA novel!)
Use all the tools you have: Dialogue as used by a master storyteller like Dickens can give characters a distinctive way of speaking that is revealing and convincing. Action is also a highly effective way to convey a character’s personality, desires, and fears.
Be observant: During your daily rounds note down speech quirks that might come in handy: the repetitive use of a phrase or word, the way someone takes credit of every good deed they do or someone who dramatizes every little cough. A character can reveal his or her nature only in relation to others; work hard to create spirited, faulty characters.
One parting thought from Joan: To her mind, poverty of detail = a second-rate style. So work hard to create rich, layered characters and settings. For more great advice, check out The Way to Write for Children by Joan Aiken. And write on.