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How to make your character come alive

For the past few days, I have been working on the character development of my novel. There are a few techniques I have learned which I am going to share with you in this post.

Figure out how your character looks like.

Knowing how your characters look physically before starting writing about them makes them come alive. The tool I have used to find their physical appearance is Google images. I would go to the images section of Google and do some random searches. More than usual I will find a picture that matches the character I have in mind.

There could the eye color you might be looking for or a jawline or maybe the hair color. The only thing I knew about my protagonist was that she has long black hair. When I searched the term ‘long back hair’, I found a picture of a girl who I knew instinctively was my protagonist.   

Find pictures not only for the protagonist but also of the antagonist and all major characters. Once you know how they look like, it will be very easy to write about them. Keep in mind you will have to describe their physical features to your readers so they can also picture them in their minds. The best way I have seen it done is by tagging them.

J. K. Rowling goes to a lot of trouble to create characters with very distinct physical tags. Harry Potter has green eyes, lightening-shaped scar, glasses, and messy hair. Ron Weasley can be very easily pictured with red hair, freckles, and long nose, so is Hagrid from his size shaggy hair and a bushy long beard.

You don’t have to go to a lot of lengths to describe your characters. You can use very short descriptions when you first introduce them and tags are a great way to do them.  

Tags can include physical features, body marks, clothing, hairstyles, characteristic mannerisms, facial expressions, manner of speaking, jargon, noises the character makes, or even odor – anything, in fact, that a person interacting with the character would notice about him.

Do a Personality test for each of your main characters.

To save your characters from falling flat, give them rich personalities. Figure out what they like and dislike, what that think, say and how they react. You can give them behavior traits like real people and the best way to access a vast majority of data on people’s behavior is through personality tests.

The Myers Briggs Test was the first one of its kind (compiled by Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers-Briggs) based on psychologist C. G. Jung’s work. Since then several others have come into play. The one I used is called 16 Personalities because it is free and it also has a vast database based on millions of real-life people.

When you take the test, you get access to both the positive and negative traits of that personality type. The trick is to answer the questions as you think your character would have answered them.

You will get about twenty pages of information. You can use whatever you like and discard the rest. You don’t have to stick with it completely, can add other things on top of what you got. The outcome will be a close to life, three-dimensional character.

Interview your character.

Interviewing is a great way of finding the voice and also the mannerism of your character and I find it very easy to do.

Settle at a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for some time, close your eyes and invite your character to come and sit with you. See him standing across from you. He will be reluctant initially but if you are kind and show compassion, his resistance will break and he will accept your invitation.

Start with easy questions. Have a conversation with him. How are you? Thanks for coming today. I am sorry I have been ignoring you, but I am here now and want to know you better.

Tell me how have you been lately. Tell him the bits you already know about him. I know you have been upset when your father spoke so badly to you, why do you think he does that? You will find he will start talking. Note his mannerisms and start writing (or typing).

You can open your eyes now. You will find the conversation very easily move from your mind on to paper. Write everything you see or hear. Keep asking easy questions keeping the hard one for the last. You may find that he doesn’t answer the hard question and leaves the interview. That is fine. He will tell you next time when there is more trust between the two of you.

Then he will tell you everything, even the things you haven’t imagined for him.

That is when he will come alive.

Photo by Duncan Shaffer on Unsplash

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