Characters are more than the people who populate your story. Characters are the story. Without someone to relate to, readers disengage quickly. Here are three tips to improve your characterization today.
#1 – Characters are People Too
Try using the word “people” instead of “characters” when you work on a story. It’s a small change, but it shifts how much of their personalities show at different times. People, generally, don’t tell you their whole life story when they are working on a problem. They show you how their past has shaped them by the decisions that they make. Even a long-term spouse or best friend can surprise you with some new detail.
#2 – Setting Shapes Character
Setting sets the the characters’ habits and behaviors. It limits what a character can do and offers paths to resolutions that other places can’t. If your story takes place in an American middle school, it should not be able to take place anywhere else. There are laws and norms that are expected in a school that are not held in a European hostile. If you treat the setting as a character-shaping tool, then both will be enriched.
#3 – Don’t Forget Appearance
Well rounded characters don’t just have personalities, they have bodies as well. Don’t just use the old mirror technique (when a character looks into a reflection of themselves) as the only method of describing what the character looks like. Instead, drop physical characteristics into the telling of the story to build an image of the character slowly and without interrupting the flow of events. Another common tip for working with character appearance is to build them off of actors. Make a folder and download a bunch of images to refer to later. When you are done, you will have a cast of actors for your story, each with their own unique look.
Go back into a recent draft and skim through your character descriptions. Do you dump information, or is it placed meaningfully? How does the setting shape the characters’ thoughts and attitudes? In what ways do your characters look, feel, and act like real people and are they interesting enough to keep readers hooked?