“Let your characters talk to each other and do things. Spend time with them — they’ll tell you who they are and what they’re up to.” (Greta Gerwig)
Developing characters is hands-down one of the hardest parts of writing. As writers, we aim to create characters, not caricatures. Great characters leap off the page — they feel like real people, not fictional.
In order for that leap to happen at all, writers must spend a lot of time getting to know their characters. As you do, try some of these seven methods to develop their personalities even further. You’ll know them better than your real friends in no time.
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TAKE A TEST
No studying required! A surefire way to get to know your character is to take some personality tests. Fire up the Internet and start answering questions as your character.
Be it Myers-Briggs (or 16 Personalities), the Enneagram, the Pottermore sorting hat test, or those silly Buzzfeed quizzes, personality quizzes can reveal both superficial and deep things about your character. Just make sure to pay as much attention to the questions themselves as the results — how your character answers the questions at hand can also be revealing.
PLAY A GAME
As you’re trying to figure out how your character moves through life, bring them with you every day. Start to ask yourself: what would my character do right now?
What would they order at Starbucks? How would they handle a traffic jam? What would they do during a layover at an airport in a different city? Are they a self-check-out guy, or do they like to wait for a cashier? What kind of concessions do they buy before a movie? Would they have liked the movie you just saw?
These details about your character’s daily life will inform and infuse your writing, ultimately making your character come alive on the page.
UPDATE THEIR PROFILE
It’s the digital age, baby! While you don’t have to actually make social media profiles for your character, thinking about how your characters would present themselves to the world online is a pretty good exercise.
What information would they fill out on a Facebook profile? Which photos would they share on Instagram? Are they more of a Twitter fanatic, or do they prefer Snapchat? What accounts would they follow? What would they put in their bio to describe themselves?
Take it a step further. What apps would they have on their phone? How would they fill out a dating profile? If they played mobile games, which ones?
LOOK TO THE STARS
Whether or not you personally believe in astrology, the zodiac can be hugely helpful in discovering more about your character. If you know your character’s birthday, great, but if not, try to work backward. Decipher whether your character is an Air, Water, Fire, or Earth sign, then look at some descriptions of the signs and see what their sign says about their personality and behavior.
Another fun exercise might be looking into horoscopes based on your character’s sign. If he or she saw what the stars had in store for them in the next day, week, or month, what would they think? What assumptions would they draw?
BUILD A HOME
Characters must live somewhere. The places we live are often representations of our personalities — the furniture we choose, what we hang on the walls, how we arrange our closets, even what’s in our fridge.
Build the place your character lives, be it a house, apartment, condo, mansion, palace, fortress, dorm room, or cabin in the woods. Let your character fill that space up with their life, then think about what their choices say about who they are.
WRITE IT OUT
Your character may or may not be the type to keep a diary or journal, but the kind of thought process that kind of personal writing evokes can help you discern what’s going on in your character’s head.
What would your character write? How would they describe their day? Their interactions with other people? Do they write in complete sentences, fragments, or stream of consciousness?
TALK THE TALK
No one lives in a bubble. We are constantly talking to and interacting with other people — friends, family, co-workers, clients, neighbors, strangers. Our characters are too.
Open up a blank document and start a conversation. Have your characters meet one another for coffee, go on dates, take road trips, or watch the sunset together. What do they talk about? What do they say? More importantly, what do they not say?
Figuring out how your character communicates is crucial. Maybe they have a catchphrase, mumble a lot, or have a tendency to repeat what is said to them before answering. Understand the cadence of how your characters talk and you’ll understand them even more.
Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.