Our characters are something special, aren’t they? They spent so long floating around in our imagination until one day, POOF! they walked across our pages and came to life in our stories. Making a character isn’t always so easy, sure we have the idea of them but what are they actually like? As authors our goal is to make our characters feel real, we want people to see themselves as them, want to be as cool as them, sympathize with them, and in some cases hate them. We achieve that through thorough character development.
I think when some people see “character development” they think about developing a character, such as hair color, height, and style. Really, you are developing their personal deep down character, sure their hair might be a luscious rose gold that mimics the enticing colors of a beachside sunset, but do they care enough to put it in an intricate side braid or do they sigh in a mirror before throwing it in yet another messy bun? Just like you shouldn’t be defined by your physical attributes, neither should they, give them some merit and depth!
There are many resources available for character templates and ideas of how to start character development, but personally I have the attention span of a squirrel drinking it’s third Bang of the day, so I tend to use some different tactics for developing and getting to know my characters. Let me break down my three favorite methods, I hope you’ll give them a try to further the lives of those precious fictional people you’ve created.
My absolute favorite way to help me understand my characters is to categorize them with classic Vines, TikToks, and memes. I love a good Vine compilation, I watch one after a tough workout as a reward or when I’m having a long day. A funny thing started happening, I’d see a Vine, laugh loudly and say “Oh that is totally -insert character’s name here-!” and it became a writing exercise for me. Think of your characters really quick, which one of them would be so offended that you almost made them drop their croissant? Which one of them would scoff and say “Uh yeah I sure hope it does'' after seeing a “Road Work Ahead” sign? Which one would jump face first into a set of lockers? Making yourself assign a character to a seven second video helps you identify some of those personality traits in a snap, which is helpful when you’re powering through a scene and need to make a decision about a character’s actions or quick dialogue.
The same method can be done while you’re spending all those late night hours scrolling through TikTok, come on, I’m in my late twenties and even I do that! Watch those TikToks of friendly pranks and sibling antics then imagine your own characters in that short ridiculous video. You might think, “but that doesn’t really match the type of story I’m writing”, and that’s okay! Really this helps me think of more levels to my characters, the silly side you may not see in a fast paced story where death is on the line. Think of your own life, sure serious situations arise but they never last forever, do you still laugh and joke around? Of course you do! Let that aspect of a natural life live on in your characters even if it never makes it into the book, you still understand that they have a level of entertaining, yet sometimes cringy, normalcy.
Along the same lines, I encourage you to become a meme collector. As you scroll through your preferred social media site, look at those memes but do the same thing and pick which character they could represent. Laughing at the expense of your character strengthens that friendly bond you should have with them, and yeah I know that sounds a little messed up, but think about it! You probably have similar conversations with your friends where you show them a meme and say “that is so you” or maybe you just send them five “100” emojis.
That shows just how well you know your friend, shouldn’t you know your character on the same level? You can also find so many meme templates on Pinterest, make your own! I just spent an undisclosed and potentially embarrassing amount of time making memes for my own book, it was a blast! It made me think of ways to summarize a character’s personality in one tiny image and even some character relationships, a few of those memes really surprised me and I laughed so hard I scared my cat.
I recommend you save those Vines, like those TikToks, and make a folder of those memes. There is nothing worse than getting to a serious scene and blanking on how your character would handle it, if you have those silly resources you can take a break to laugh while still thinking of your character. I almost always have my characters’ Vine compilations handy during a writing session for when I need a breather. Sure, thinking of your character making a “smack cam” video might not translate to the intense battle scene you are writing, but sometimes understanding one side of a personality translates into seeing the very opposite side.
Our characters are human, okay, maybe some of them aren’t entirely human, but they should feel human and flawed. Part of what makes us all so human is how we react to certain situations. You may have decided what drink your main character would order from Starbucks, but take a second and think of how they would react if that order was wrong. Would they be the type of person to calmly point out the mistake? Would their face turn red with anger as they pointed one finger at an innocent barista while demanding the manager and an apology? Or would they simply accept the fate the coffee gods had bestowed upon them and carry on with their day sipping the beverage of destiny? Thinking about a simple “want” that your character might have getting denied and how they would react to it can really help you understand how they might react in a bigger situation, basically, would they fight it or accept it?
Another situation I like to picture my characters in is the grocery store. That means that as I am perusing the aisles gathering essentials I am still in a stage of character development, isn’t that great?! Which one of your characters would help grab an item from a top shelf? Which one would slam their cart into someone who was blocking access to their favorite snacks? Do they make an itemized list with a detailed map of the various sections or do they meander around throwing whatever looks good into their basket? Does a long line at checkout stress them out or do they take the wait as an opportunity to loudly chat up a friend on the phone?
There are so many questions you can be asking yourself while doing the most mundane task. And yeah, I’m sure there is not a pivotal grocery shopping scene in your story, but I’m almost positive that your character is required to plan something, gather essentials, or practice patience and knowing how they would handle that on an easily relatable scale will help you make that leap to whatever situation you have thrown them in.
Those situations not entirely relatable to you? That’s okay! Think about yourself! What situations do you wish you reacted better to? A failed math test? A deadline? Your sister stealing your favorite shirt when just yesterday she looked you in the eye and swore she hadn’t seen it? Our characters are typically reflections of ourselves, and understanding how we react to those situations makes our characters more dimensional.
Lastly, because I am one of those writers that absolutely thrives off of music you better believe that my character playlists are a fine tuned thing of beauty. Music helps me find that deep down moody side to my characters, because that’s the part of my own soul that loves music. Emotion plays so heavily into our own personalities so it should also be a big factor in developing your characters, and that’s where the playlist comes in.
There are a variety of elements that determine if a song will make it to a character playlist. I have to ask myself if my character would personally love the song, and then I ask under what condition they would play it. Is it their go to song when they’re having a bad day? Will they blare it and dance around to celebrate? Or what if this story was a musical, would this melody lightly play everytime my character entered a scene? Ask yourself these questions, but don’t stop there, so much more can be done with music!
Once you have a song picked out for a character picture their music video, maybe they’re singing a lovesick melody to a longtime crush, or maybe they are gearing up to smash in the teeth of their arch nemesis. Seriously, picture that video! When you come to a situation you’ll remember the video your character starred in and that song will help remind you of their feelings in regards to the situation at hand. I’ve found that my main character who is quite the fiery little princess gravitates towards what I call “punch the wall” music, but each song has a deep sadness to it that really speaks to her feelings in her current situation.
I mostly use music to help further the emotion in character relationships, and it’s super easy! Let’s say I’m really digging a song for my main character, but the scene I’m stuck on is with another character who has a very different personality, we’ve all been there. I’ll take that song that I have undoubtedly had on repeat for three days and find a song by the same artist to represent my other character in the scene. Hearing the same voice and style representing the opposite character still makes me think of my main character because I have internalized that voice from the other song. Sometimes it’s helpful to listen to those songs one after the other, almost like catching a glimpse at both sides of scenes.
Just like musicians portray many emotions in their own medium of art, so should you in your writing. An event that may leave one character sobbing may also make the other giggle nervously, or maybe one character laughs at danger but also cries when confronted, very opposite reactions but all were written by the same artist...cough cough...you! So again, let your main character have a dance party song, but also let them have a breakup song, and everything in between. Let them be moody because I bet that you as the author are planning to throw them into some very emotionally charged scenes.
You may be thinking that I’m a little crazy and none of that was actually any form of character development, but trust me it has all truly helped me! I’m forced to think of my characters doing extreme things in my fantasy series like agreeing to treason and biting giants, I needed to see so many layers of their personality to imagine how they would handle themselves. Using the memes helps me catch a glimpse into their silliness and form a friendship like bond, imagining them in relatable situations puts me in their shoes to see how they would react, and music helps me to see their angsty side that often becomes so important to a story’s build up. Yes, these methods might be a tad bit unconventional but I firmly believe that pursuing my passion should be a fun experience and these tactics are so very entertaining, I hope you’ll give them a try!
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