I didn’t write Change Everlasting. Rose, Liam, and Lyla did. I knew who they were before the story started and as I went along I would ask myself “what would he/she do here?” or “how does he/she feel about this?”. A great story starts with characters that are realistic. Here are some tips that will bring your characters to life so they can do all the hard work.
My sister has taught me a LOT about writing. Her characters are very important to her. Whenever she gets a story idea she starts by making profiles for each major character. In this profile she puts their age, birthday, gender, sexual orientation, personality traits, phobias, life story, etc. Of course she also puts a bit about what they look like, but those things often come after she’s already decided WHO her character is. Here’s an example of a character profile I made before writing Change Everlasting:
DOB: March 27, 1990
Fears: being alone, animatronics, upsetting others
Loves: learning, people, reading, writing, puzzles, games
Hates: guys who hit on her, wearing jewelry, missing deadlines
Personality: introverted extrovert, open book, goal-directed, agreeable, somewhat neurotic, codependent, curious
Lyla grew up in a fairly stable home. Her mom was a bit controlling and selfish, but otherwise was a good mom. Her dad was at work a lot, but also was good to her. Her parents started fighting when she was a teenager. Because she feels so responsible for making everyone happy she found herself in the middle of it all.
Lyla stayed at home after college because she wanted to make sure her parents were okay. She has a job where she works from home so that she can be around in case anyone starts fighting. She went through therapy to address these issues. Her therapist encouraged her to get out on her own and live her own life, but her strong sense of responsibility kept her at home which only made things worse for her.
Her parents eventually divorced and both moved away. They left Lyla the house, but she sold it and finally moved away giving her a chance to experience life on her own for the first time. She still feels responsible for her parents divorce and sometimes wonders what she could have done to prevent it.
I actually hold a BA in Psychology. People are fascinating. During my program I learned so much about how people interact, what drives people, and even some neuroscience (you’ll see this a bit in my writing).
I took an entire class on personality, which has actually helped me a LOT in my writing. When fleshing out my characters I always think of the “Big 5” personality traits. These are always a starting point for me. I add more traits as I go along and make sure they line up with the Big 5.
This helps to drive the plot. Strangers just showed up at Lyla’s door…what is she going to do? Well she’s an introverted extrovert…she’s going to be a little nervous, but at the end of the day she loves being around people so she’s going to make friends. Lyla’s mom called. Well she doesn’t want to answer, but she’s neurotic and codependent so she can’t help herself. See that? I didn’t decide what was going to happen. Lyla did.
Use Your Life
Unless you’ve lived under a rock, you’ve met all kinds of interesting people. You have teachers, friends, strangers and family who have all crossed your path. What would those people look like on paper?
Think about the most interesting people you’ve met and start using them in your story! You don’t want to copy people exactly (unless you have their permission), but you can totally base a character off that weird 5th grade teacher who wore his socks up to his knees.
Act it Out
As I said above, inspiration should come from your own life. Your characters experience things that shape their development throughout the story. You need to be able to write about that and how they respond.
Sometimes that means going and getting more life experiences. Want to write about going to the beach, but you’ve never actually seen a beach? Maybe it’s time for a road trip. Is your character going to school, but you don’t know what you want to happen? Get yourself to school and see what happens. Draw on that.
My sister also acts out her stories on The Sims. She always creates her characters in the Sims and then directs them to do what she wants. She leaves free choice on because sometimes the things her Sims do help to drive the plot. It’s not as good as going out and living, but it’ll help in a pinch.
Want more writing help? Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I share resources and tips. Use the form below to subscribe or follow me on Instagram @trinityunderdog.