Character. We all have character, but how do we develop character? In our stories, character development is an art. From the moment your character appears on the scene, the reader is either captivated by the picture you've drawn, or they put the book down because they have made no connection. Just like with art, the audience for a character differs. Some people are drawn to the tortured hero in need of salvation, while others prefer the charming rogue with the witty tongue but deep secret. The job of the writer is to draw the character so well in that first scene that the reader cannot help but want to know more.
Think about it. As writers we work on the "hook" to pull the reader in. The one line to make us go "Wow! I want to know what happens next!" An amazing opening line will only take the reader so far. What can an author do to create a character with character? You can read books about character descriptions. Do an in-depth character description before you even begin writing a word of the novel. Some authors do this.
Outline ahead of time: Start with the physical description – from hair and eye color to height, weight, and special features that distinguish your hero/heroine from the other characters. Here's an example of how I jotted down notes on Nina Wellbourne from Midnight Moon
- Nina is average height, with an athletic body because she rides every day, practices archery, and is an expert shot. Living in the Lowlands, she has been able to run free as she sees fit. She also does not wear the usual attire of a lady of court. Her hair is the color of sunshine - golden and she wears it in a long braid that cascades down her back. When it is undone, it curls softly about her oval face that has a smattering of freckles across her nose from being outside. Women in society would scream to have freckles. Her eyes are the color of midnight - black, but they dazzle when she smiles. She has curves that would make any man swoon, but she does not flaunt her features as many women do.
By taking the time to jot down Nina's description ahead of time, when I add a part of her appearance into the book, I can borrow from my notes. When Powell sees Nina for the first time, he may comment about one or two of the features which attract him. The next time he sees her, he might comment on another. Or perhaps when he is alone, a part of her anatomy will spark a reaction. The most important thing is keeping her features and actions true to the picture you have created in your mind. How your hero/heroine is first seen by others in your story is the same way the reader first sees them. If they are seen favorably by another character, then the reader will absorb those good feelings and have a favorable first impression.
First Impressions: We have all heard first impressions can make or break a relationship. We are visual creatures. When we meet someone for the first time, no matter how much we declare appearances do not matter, they have an effect on us. Tonight, I'm watching "A Year of Living Dangerously" with Mel Gibson. When he first appears on the scene, we cannot help but be drawn into his crystalline blue eyes, but the sophistication of his bearing as he strides across the crowded street amidst the harried reporters who jostle for position. If a writer does his job well, they you have envisioned this and long to know more about him. Were you intrigued by the description? I hope so, but chances are you already have a picture of Mel Gibson in your mind, so it's easy to picture what I said. Unfortunately when writing a historical novel, you cannot say your hero looks like Mel Gibson or Chris Pine. You need to use the right adjectives and comparisons to create a vision.
Beyond What the Eye Sees: We all know the saying "Beauty is only skin deep" follows us next. Now our mind's eye has been drawn to the hero/heroine so it's time to intrigue the reader with feelings, emotions, deep dark secrets that motivate our characters. Remember that outline? If we have done our research on the hero/heroine well, then we already know their back-story. Why does Nina live outside London society? What happened to make her keep men at 100 feet or more? Something happened to shape her convictions. As a reader, we want to delve into it further. As a writer, we must make it convincing without being maudlin, but most importantly, we must make the hero care about her enough to fall in love and take that chance she won't return his love. Nina Wellbourne
- age 26. She is the fifth child and twin to Ronald. Her real name is Rowena, but has been called Nina since a child because her older siblings gave her this nickname. When she was 17, she made her debut into society and fell under the charms of an earl. She gave herself to him and became pregnant. Her family hid the pregnancy and had her swept away to have the child at a family home in the Lowlands of Scotland. If I tell you more, I'll spoil the story, but as an author, I hope you are intrigued enough to want to know what happens to our heroine.
Family Connections: "Who we are, is what we are, and what we are is who we are". Ever hear that? We do not exist in a vacuum. We are shaped by our family history. The hero/heroine's parents and their relationship shape how he/she feels about the opposite sex. Brothers, sisters, and other family members and how they are treated also play an important role in the character development. Sometimes family members can be integral parts of the story because of how they interact with the character. And they must interact; even if the hero/heroine has no living family members, the surrogate family members serve the same purpose. They can give a depth of understanding into the character's GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict) that propel them toward future relationships with the other main character.
So, I hope I have given you enough to contemplate. Of course, this mini-lesson character development is far from over. Think of it as a teaser of things to come. Have a great night and happy writing.