My favorite part of writing isn’t writing the actions or humorous dialogue between characters or shoving my characters together (although those are all fun). My favorite part is coming up with the characters and trying to make them as complex and real as possible. I love it. It’s probably why I have tons of characters planned but have only finished a couple stories: the planning is just so much more fun. Developing different types of people for stories stimulates my creative side which is fantastic. I get to decide every little thing about them!
To help me out with this post, I’m using my favorite character, Hunter Bruckman, from The Davidson Effect.
The steps to developing a fun character can be summed up in six steps.
Step 1: Start with an idea.
When coming up with a character, you most likely already have some idea of how this character will act or what role they will play. For Hunter, he was a character who was going to oppose the protagonist, Travis, in The Davidson Effect. He wasn’t necessarily evil or the antagonist, but he hindered and disapproved of Travis’ reckless behavior. Who do you want your character to be? The love interest? The faithful sidekick? Or are they just a character who pops in the story? Regardless of what you choose, this character will have some effect on the other characters.
Step 2: Find a name.
Next, choose a name for your new baby. I tend to use names of people I know when I accidentally
Step 3: Put a face to the name.
One of my favorite steps in developing a character is finding an actor/actress to “play” them in the novel. Just having a picture in your mind or even a random lady or gentleman from a stock image works, but I prefer finding someone who gets their picture taken often. That way I can find dozens of pictures of them showing different emotions while playing different roles and sporting different looks. It helps me to better picture the actions of my character in my head if I have a visual.
In Hunter’s case, I used both actors and a picture in my head because no actor seemed to fit him exactly at first. I went through several actors that looked sort of like him. He has a dark tan, black hair, and is built like a soldier – well, he is a soldier.
I finally found an actor, the adorable Bob Morley, that fits him exactly! Every once in a while, I find another guy who reminds me of Hunter so I add him to my TDE Pinterest board (if you don’t have a Pinterest board for your novel, you should!) but Bob Morley is my go-to search if I need new pictures of Hunter.
Step 4: Give the character at least three strong attributes.
This step goes hand-in-hand with Step 1. Now is the time to get a concrete idea of what role the character will play in the story. How do they appear to others in the story? Are they sarcastic? Are they a good teacher? Are they clumsy and nervous? Nail down three ways the other characters might describe your new character.
You want to choose three attributes because one or two just isn’t enough. People have more than one side. They can be loud and funny around friends but deathly shy around strangers.
Hunter is stoic and judgmental but is a good leader. A bonus – when you come up with these attributes, there will be consequential characteristics that you’ll notice. Hunter is a good leader so he is patient and won’t give up on another character (consequences of being a leader), even if he is verbally judging their work.
Step 5: Add some random attributes and causes.
Now that you have at least three strong attributes, it’s time to give the character some secondary ones. These range from weaknesses and fears to likes and dislikes to secret hobbies and past times. Not every grumpy person acts mad and shallow all the time so you need to give your character some habits and characteristics that appear when they aren’t grumpy. Even if you don’t share with your readers that your character used to watch Man vs Wild, it will bleed through when your character knows what plant is safe to eat when they’re lost in wilderness.
For example, Hunter is very stoic but he loosens up and relaxes around his partner, Ellie. He isn’t afraid to tell others just how he disapproves of their behavior *cough* Travis *cough* but he’s quiet when in the presence of an authority. Despite his powerful and sometimes scary actions, he has a soft spot for children because he lost his mother and wants them to feel comfortable when he wasn’t. There are exceptions to his strongest attributes and some things that overpower his normal behavior.
Remember to come up with a reason/cause to why your character acts the way he does.
- Action: Your character knows how to build a fire.
- Cause: Your character’s father used to take the family on camping trips.
- Weakness: Your character is afraid of water.
- Cause: Your character almost drowned as a child.
- Knowledge: Your character is an expert on a certain type of plane.
- Cause: They once got stuck next to a pilot on a train ride and got lectured about his work.
Make them as random as you want!
Step 6: Play around with situations & write!
Finally have fun with the character and see what happens. Stick them in imaginary situations that may not happen in your story and see how they change in front of you. A lot of times once you start writing they change by themselves. Without you thinking, your English teacher has a Scottish accent and your pirate decides they have a secret fear of water. You’ll learn more about your character and they’ll become more complex as you write. I’ve had characters change gender, gain and lose siblings, go from a futuristic world to modern day, switch from secondary character to main character, gain 100+ pounds, fall in love with an unplanned character, etc.
Now I don’t follow these steps in order every time I make a character. When I created Hunter, I was playing around with a story with a fellow writer. We came up with a situation and put our two characters (Mine: Travis, Hers: Ellie). Neither of us had used those characters before so we just went along with the story. Ellie finds Travis unconscious in the snow and when he wakes up, he explains he was knocked out from behind and needed to get back to a base not far from them. By the end of the story, Ellie had been “fired” from serving at the base as a teen soldier when her partner and friend, Hunter (hey!), was supposedly killed. She found out he wasn’t dead when I made up Hunter and we also found out that they had been love interests. Hunter was a spur-of-the-moment character and all it took to come up with him was one situational story!
After the story, I gave him a last name and found a face to the image I had made up in my head. The attributes and secondary characteristics came up during the story when either I or the girl I was writing with wrote dialogue as if the two characters had known each other for years, mentioning something personal about the other character.
If you have someone to brainstorm with, it makes coming up with a complex character much easier. If not, these steps have worked with nearly every other character I’ve come up with.
Thanks for your help, Hunter!