How do you develop characters? I am sure that I am not the only one who steals a gesture here or an attitude there. Being a writer allows you to be a voyeur and a cynic. You’re Kind of like a spy looking into a world that you are merely pretending to participate in.
“You might want to turn the machine on before you try to shock the patient. There ya go!” What a knuckle head, but great material for later!
Real life people and events are the best things to draw on to create dynamic three dimensional characters. We all have our own techniques.
When I was in college I took a photography class in order to boost my horrid GPA. I liked photography, and back then we had to spend hours in a dark room developing our own pictures. If you have no clue what a dark room is Google it.
One of the things that I remember was the rule of thirds. You simply put the subject of your picture into one third of the photo and try to create a sense of perspective, which draws the eye to the person or place of interest. This rule of photography is why you don’t take a picture with the Eifel tower growing out of the top of your wife’s head. I take the same approach to developing a character. I just call it the rule of threes.
One: I pick their worldview. A worldview is the lens in which we look through and process the world around us, it’s the big picture and influences more than we care to admit. A static character most likely will have a worldview that never changes; where as a dynamic character is most likely to change.
Two: I give each character a habit. A habit could be mundane or straight up weird. Peeling labels off beer bottles, repeating what others say, laughing at inappropriate times, cursing, smoking, re- arranging dishes in other people’s houses, or maybe refusing to where shoes.
Three: Whereas a habit is something physical that a person does based on some inner quirk I view the hang up as an emotional scar or motivation that drives a habit. They are both tied together. For example Sally might have been beautiful in high school but now is two hundred pounds, over weight and diabetic. She is scared and depressed. Her habits are the outward manifestation of her inner turmoil or hang-ups. She has four kids now and is over the top controlling, over scheduling their every move. Any number of things are possible, once you under stand her world view and the situations that got her here.
Another Example: John an ex-Army Ranger had his leg blown off in Iraq, he is now blind. He draws on his worldview to either deal with his new life and excel or crumple into despair. Maybe John reaches out for help. John’s world view changes and he has an epiphany. Maybe he becomes and evangelist or possibly a blind superstar athlete. He may have new hang ups and habits as a result of his PTSD. John might fade into alcoholism. He could be revolted by the smell of gasoline and cooked meat, smells that remind him of the screams of his– well you get it.
None of this is news if you’re a writer; everything is possible material for a story, and the more real the better.
So next time every one is mocking or running from the ‘weird-o’ that no one wants to be around, simply pick up your pen and paper and start taking notes. Every bizarre moment has something that is worth recording.
I would love to hear your thoughts on creating characters.
Stay tuned for more in this series: Weapons 101, Civilians Guide to Writing About The Military Sub Cultures, Spy Stuff 101, Fight Scenes That Snap, and Writing Trauma Scenes for non Medical Writers.