Creating compelling characters in your fiction writing gets easier if you know where to start. These are 5 tips for developing characters that seem almost human.
Start with the conflict: Identify the central conflict of your work before you flesh out your fictional characters. Your protagonist should usually have a problem to solve or a desire to fulfill. How he resolves his dilemma will reveal his qualities and the changes he experiences along the way. Fiction writing and all drama usually works best when it’s about conflict and resolution, rather than a character description with the theme and plot taking lower billing.
Show, don’t tell: Developing compelling characters in fiction writing should be a matter of revealing their qualities through their actions and reactions among themselves. Instead of stating why a character is doing something, let the motivation be suggested by the story. Rather than saying that someone loves food, show them analyzing the menu when they eat out, playing the Food Channel when they’re on the treadmill, and getting regular deliveries from Williams-Sonoma.
Use a character checklist: After you have the basics in place, you can use a checklist for developing characters further. Make a complete profile for your protagonist even if you invent a lot of details that won’t be necessary for carrying your plot. You may never need to refer to the fact that they won a spelling bee in the third grade or didn’t get the bike they wanted one Christmas, but it will still help you to have a more vivid picture of them. If your work has an extensive cast, it also makes it easier to ensure that you keep each character distinct.
Put yourself in their shoes: It may be easy to identify with your protagonist, but you need to empathize with all the players if you want your readers to care about the story. Even murderers and telemarketers have their good points and a line of reasoning behind their behavior. You might not want to accept a ride from Hannibal Lecter, but you can understand why an FBI agent would find him fascinating.
Let your characters surprise you: Real life is full of surprises so fiction writing should be too. Tolstoy himself seemed to evolve in his empathy for Anna Karenina when his semi-autobiographical character of Levin questions some of his harshest judgments upon meeting her in person.
Developing compelling characters will improve your fiction writing.