People fall in love with novels because of the characters. This means it’s imperative for you to know how to develop them, and why.

Plot development is important, but action and events, alone, cannot hold readers’ interest or keep them interested in a series that involves one or more characters the books are based on. Readers want characters they can feel something about, whether that’s kinship, admiration, empathy, enjoyment—whatever causes them to relate to characters and care about what happens to them or be curious about them. Even evil antagonists are attractive to readers because they want to know what happens to them: Do they, in the end, get what they deserve, or are they, perhaps, transformed.

Characters influence events and events influence characters. Events cause characters to grow and change as the plot develops; sometimes events cause characters to falter or struggle. Either way, this character dynamic is something readers expect to happen. This is how readers learn more about characters they develop a relationship with as they read your book, and what makes characters real to readers. For characters to be more “real,” they have to be flawed. Interesting characters keep readers turning pages and looking forward to the next book in the series, if a series is part of your plan.

Characters need to have conflict—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or psychological. They need to be confused at times and have not-nice stuff happen to them, otherwise they are dull—they are two-dimensional cardboard characters—and you never want that to happen. Conflict that causes characters to experience a process and seek and or find a resolution holds readers’ attention and builds their ability to become attached to characters.

They need to demonstrate who they are through their distinctive words and actions. This means you have to really know your characters so you stay true to who they are when they speak, feel, react, and act—even through what they do when you let them have a quiet or serene moment (but just a brief one, of course). What helps is to create a character sketch for each character. The more significant the character, the more detailed you want his or her sketch to be. You can either create a list that you refer to or write the sketch in essay form to refer to—whatever works best for you. This way, not only do you stay true to them, you keep them true to themselves. Readers will expect this of you.

Here’s a guide you can use for such sketches:
 Character’s name (make sure it fits the personality)
 Occupation (including unemployed) and/or sideline
 Height
 Weight
 Gender (this could also include sexual preference)
 Marital status
 Children
 Parents/Siblings (names, education, personalities, etc.)
 Age (be sure to note in your sketch which year the character is that age so that the next story they are included in has their age matching the time period that’s passed since the last story they were included in)
 Birth date (lets you keep track of their age, match their age to events in recent history, and even know their astrological sign so you can pull characteristics from there, as well, if you think that will assist you):
 Birthplace (did the character grow up there or move around)
 Hair (color, length, cut or style, balding, bald, wig/toupee)
 Attire (casual, work, formal, favorite garment—if any)
 Body (athletic, lean, heavy, obese, flabby, corpulent, slender, hourglass, broad-shouldered, curves in the right places, narrow-waisted, long-waisted, short-waisted, pot-bellied, six-pack abs, slender neck, neck as wide as head, neck proportional to head, etc.)
 Footwear (casual, work, formal—favorite footwear, if any)
 Face (long, round, oval, triangular, heart-shaped, square, rectangular, square-jawed, pointed jaw, weak-chinned, high cheekbones, full lips—or thin or medium, bow-shaped, straight line when angry, etc.; mustache, beard, clean-shaven, etc.)
 Nose (pointed, upturned, pug, wide, bump on bridge, flat, etc.)
 Eyes (color—includes shades of blue or green, brown, gray, hazel green, hazel brown [gold]; shape—small, average, large, almond, slanted, squinty, close-set, wide-set, etc.; wears eye makeup or doesn’t, false eyelashes, etc.)
 Physical peculiarities, if any
 Body language and poses (how they stand, sit, walk, run, hold their head when speaking or thinking or angry, etc.)
 Arms (muscular, slim, spindly, hairy, hairless, etc.)
 Legs (same as arms)
 Home (where it is; what it looks like inside and out—what’s in each room—furniture, appliances [fridge—and what’s in it or isn’t, stove, computer, laptop, phones, Jacuzzi, etc.], furnishings, fireplace—maybe more than one. Possessions are a clue to lifestyle and personality and even history, e.g., family antiques)
 Favorite room (which it is, where it is, what’s in it, what the character feels when in it)
 View out of the windows
 Habits (what they do—good or bad—which may include smoking, drinking, nail biting, etc.; what they like—or shouldn’t; what they don’t do but should—exercise, sleep enough, eat right, etc.)
 Vehicle/s (autos, boats, motorcycles, bikes, etc.—make, model, year, color, horsepower, etc.—do they drive a clunker, a classic, or base choices on utility or budget?)
 Motive/s: (What does the character want most in life? What is the character’s core need? How does the character want to feel about himself/herself? How does the character actually feel about himself/herself? What drives the character?)
 Past (What’s in the character’s past that may surface at an appropriate time, place, and manner in one or more scenes, or in a later book—and contribute to the development of the character and the plot?)
 Significant event that molded the character
 Significant event that illustrates the character’s personality
 Educational background
 Home environment they grew up in
 Best friend
 Enemies
 Ambition in life
 Gestures s/he makes when talking
 Gait (short steps, long steps, limps, walks fast, ambles, slinks, hunched shoulders, straight posture, etc.)
 Strongest character trait
 Weakest character trait
 Laughs or jeers at
 Philosophy for life
 Political leaning (if any)
 Hobbies (if any)
 Meticulous about appearance or sloppy
 What others notice first about him/her
 What the character does when alone
 Are readers supposed to like/dislike this character
 Does s/he change in the story? How?

Like us, characters are what they read, eat, drink, wear, think, and do. When you know your characters intimately, you’re better able to show, not tell readers about characters. Like us, characters have specific behaviors for their internal and external selves and lives. Their behaviors contribute to and drive plot. Readers won’t mind if a character occasionally surprises them—in fact, they’ll enjoy it, if it’s appropriate to the plot development, but they’ll want even such surprises to be in character.

Have fun developing your characters. Doing this ahead of writing the first draft will assist you with plot development as well (though, that is a different topic I’ll cover in the near future), because you won’t have to figure out what your characters will do or how they’ll behave as you write—you know this ahead of time—even if your characters surprise you, which can happen, especially if they’re real to you too.

I wish you the best with your writing and progress.

Author's Bio: 

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