As a writer, I tend to create small backstories for most of my characters. Just a few snippets of ideas to help me get into their heads a little better. And the following five tips are just a few of the strategies I use to build a more well rounded character. I may not actually use the information gained from the exercises directly in my writing, but it certainly helps me to visualise the character better. If you have any little strategies you use in your writing, I’d love to hear them. Why not leave a comment below?
Pockets, Bags or Handbags
Visualising a significant object a character always carries in their pocket, bag or handbag can give valuable insight into their personality and their backstory and can give the author huge insights into why they behave the way they do now. One of the characters in my Nikki Parekh series, always carries a small statue of the Hindu God Ganesh (remover of obstacles) with them. I have never mentioned this in my novels so far, yet it informs how I write that character.
Once I’ve decided on the object the character carries, I ask myself questions like; Why is the object so important to them? What does it symbolise? Does it belong to them? How did they obtain it? What do they do with it? How does it make them feel? How would they feel if it was stolen or lost? How would they feel about others knowing they carry this object?
What people wear on their feet can tell a lot about them. For example, my detective DI Gus McGuire is mostly comfortable in well worn running trainers, because that is his go to relaxation and stress buster activity, whilst DS Nikki Parekh wears battered old DM’s that she really needs to replace, but somehow her money always has to be spent on her kids or her house or her temperamental car.
So, when I’m creating a new a new character I often think about the minute details of their footwear and ask myself the following questions: Is the character comfortable wearing their chosen footwear or is it a necessity for some reason (job/ to go with a dress or part of a uniform)? Is their footwear well taken care of – polished? What price range does their footwear fall into? Is it well worn? Are there any tell-tale marks on it – perhaps a worn heel on one foot or a scuff on the toes? Do they have a distinctive tread? Did the person choose the footwear themselves? What colour is it? How does the wearer feel when walking/moving in their footwear? Is it second hand?
The private space a character inhabits can be very revealing about their character. This could be a larger area like their office or bedroom. Alternatively, it could be a specific area like their office desk or their bedside cabinet or their wardrobe … or even their kitchen cupboards. All of this information can feed into how your character develops.
This is an opportunity to delve into the character’s psyche. To explore their private environment and uncover any secrets that may lurk there. I tend to look for unusual or uncongruous objects (For want of a better example – perhaps an open box of condoms in a nun’s bedside cabinet) Photgraphs or paintings (or even the absence of them) can reveal things about your character too. How they keep their private space is also interesting (especially if it’s in contrast to the personna they portray to the wider world); Is their private space clean? Tidy? Spartan? Sterile? Well worn yet taken care of? Which objects look most/ least used? Do they have any locked/secret cubby holes within their space?
Friends or Loved Ones
On occasion, when I’ve asked my character’s friends or loved ones obout them, I’ve had some really in depth revelations that again can temper how that character develops on the page.
Friends and loved ones may know the character really well and their perceptions can be useful character development tools. However, sometimes it’s the perceptions that they get wrong that are the most revealing. If they misinterpret guilt for grief, or love for admiration or anger for frustration, it can be a brilliant insight into the character and their realtionshoip with those around them. It can reveal misunderstandings that can play into the character’s actions.
Likewise, considering what enemies think of your character can give great insight into interpersonal dynamics and is an opportuity to play on miscommunications. It’s also a key time to, perhaps, introduce flaws that will make your character much more three dimensional.
I hope you’ve found these tips useful and would love to hear any tips you use yourself in your writing. I’d also be happy to answer any questions regarding character development that you make have, so please feel free to make a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.