I was going through some old folders of things I’d kept from high school and college the other day and came across an envelope with my name on the front and a dozen or so scraps of paper inside. It was only when I opened it and read a couple of them that I was reminded of my high school drama classes and the various exercises we went through to try and develop different characters. For this one in particular, envelopes were passed around with each person’s name on the front. Instructions were to write on a slip of paper a few qualities about each person and put it in the appropriate envelope. Ultimately, the task was to come to school the next day and embody the exact opposite of what the slips of paper dictated who you were to other people.
Despite that the majority of my descriptions either included or were solely “tall, nice, talks fast” and that I must have had no other option than to come to class the next day walking on my knees and being slowly rude to people, the exercise, if it had been done properly, was actually quite a good one as far as character development. It’s easy to start writing with an idea of what types of characters are going to play parts in your novel or other work of fiction, but to truly write them well, they must be layered, multifaceted and have quirks and odd qualities individual to each. Then, of course, these little nuances, histories and habits must be brought about discretely and appropriately, because it hardly works if in introducing a character, the author simply lists and dictates who this person is.
Even the most minor of characters must have some distinction. All of these things must be worked out. Sometimes, they come circumstantially or organically, as the plot if written or turns a certain way, a natural reaction occurs in a particular character. To start, however, an author has to really know who their characters are—even if certain traits never make it on the page, many writers are aware of them anyway.
How do you develop and enhance your characters so that they become real people instead of flat, two dimensional archetypes?