Developing Memorable Characters

How many times have you been told you need to develop “round” or “3-dimensional” characters? If you’re a writer – or even if you just took a couple writing classes in school – you’ve undoubtedly been told this more times than you can count. But what does it really mean to develop a “round” character?

Basically, a round character lives and breathes as if they are alive. They have hopes, fears, and goals for the future. They have prejudices, obsessions, and past experiences that have shaped who they are.

Clearly we cannot make every character in every story 3-dimensional. Sometimes a character is there just to be the cashier in a single scene, or to cut our protagonist off during rush-hour traffic. Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to develop a character further. And that’s okay.

But it’s always helpful to ask yourself if a character you’ve introduced could be rounder, or if it makes sense for them to be. It also helps if you take a hard look at your protagonist and other major characters, and decide whether they’re 3-dimensional enough.

Many books on writing will have lists of questions you can answer about your character to learn more about them, but I find many of these questions to be a bit useless, not to mention time-consuming. I mean, sure, my character’s favorite color might be relevant in some situations, but for the most part it doesn’t help me understand them as a person.

Keep in mind though: every writer is different. If answering lists of questions about your characters works for you, go for it. No need to mess with a good thing, after all. I just want to share with you the techniques I’ve learned work best for me when developing characters. Try them out, but keep in mind it’s always a good idea to do what works best for you.

Write Fan Fiction For Your Characters

My favorite technique for getting to know a character is to write them into a scene, usually one I don’t intend to put in the actual story. It’s like writing fan fiction for your own story! Put your character into a situation he or she wouldn’t normally find themselves in.

For instance, write a scene in which your character works at your current job. How do they fare? Is it a complete fiasco, or do they pull it off? I recently tried this, expecting my character to fail horribly, and he surprised me by being better at the job than I am! You can discover new and interesting things about your characters this way.

If nothing else, this gives you a method of getting to know your characters in a fun, low pressure way.

Give Your Character Goals

This one might seem like common sense. Most writers give their main characters a motive, their main goal which drives them and the story onward. But in the process of writing a very focused story, we might forget that very few people in the world have only a single goal.

So just take a moment to think about what other goals your character might have outside the story arc, and decide if you want to integrate them. I believe every good character has at least three major goals, whether they become the main focus of the story or not. And don’t forget to think about the flip side of the coin as well: what are your character’s three biggest fears?

I also have many “aha!” moments when I apply these questions toward secondary characters. Even if a character isn’t integral to the story, it’s often a good idea to understand their basic drives and fears so you’ll know how they should react to your character and the situations they find themselves in.

Theme Song

You know how in movies and TV shows, individual characters often have the same background music in every scene they make an appearance? That’s because it gives the audience a queue about what kind of person they are! For instance: a nefarious villain may always be introduced using a foreboding sequence of notes. Likewise, a childish, playful character might have bouncy, bubble-gum style background music.

Giving your character their own theme song may seem silly since this isn’t TV. But I find it’s quite useful because it helps me envision that character’s scenes and how they act. Try it. At the very least, it’s a lot of fun!

List of Words

This is a great technique to find out if you really know your character, or if you need to give him a bit more thought. Sit down, imagine this person in your mind, and then just write down phrases or words that remind you of them.

For instance, I spent about a minute doing this for a character in one of my current stories; his name is Azrael, and he’s a barkeeper with a dark past. This is the list I came up with for him:

Loneliness
Beer bottles
Darkness
Secrets
Broken
Unrequited love

You probably get the idea. But please keep in mind, this technique should be easy. If it’s not, then you probably don’t know your character very well, and should spend some time getting to know them using previous techniques.

Do What Works For You!

Please just keep in mind: you are unique, and your writing techniques should be as well. Feel free to try my methods. If they work for you, fantastic. If not, that’s totally fine! Writing is a mixture of both art and science, so sometimes you just need to do what “speaks” to you.

Do you have a special technique for getting to know your characters? If so, please share in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Face Your Fears

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. This post is not going to tell you how to eliminate your fear. Whether it’s fear of a blank page, of rejection, or of never being good enough, fear is part of the writing process just as much as it is a barrier to be overcome.

You’re a writer. But more than that, you’re human. Your fears will never fully go away, no matter how successful you become. Fear is a natural response to the unknown, and since writing is full of unknowns, it comes with the territory. You may think this advice is ironic, considering the name of my blog: Write To Be Fearless. But bear with me for a moment.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

Courage – not fearlessness – is what sets true writers apart from normal people. Whether you realize it or not, at one point you were brave enough to sit down in front of that terrifying blank page, and fill it. The story inside you was more important than your fear, and you overcame it.

If I could give you a list of steps you can take to overcome your fear of failure, I would. But that would require coming up with bullshit just to make this post longer and prettier. I won’t do that.

So instead, I’m just going to be honest: there’s ¬†only one thing you can do when fear threatens to overwhelm you, whether it has to do with writing, talking about your craft, publishing, or anything else in life.

Feel the fear. Acknowledge it. And then do what you’re afraid to do anyway.

Finding the Inspiration to Write

Writers are obsessive by nature. We don’t write because we’re good at it, or because it seems like an okay way to pass the time. We write because a story or character latches onto us, takes over our minds, and refuses to release its grip until we do its bidding through the power of a pen.

Obsession is the very definition of inspiration. But let’s face it. Even the most seasoned writers sometimes struggle to find that obsession. Sometimes inspiration takes hold for days or weeks, but at other times, it is painfully absent. For me, this usually happens when I’m first trying to start a new story, or when I’m coming up with ideas for a new one.

Lately I’ve been trying to write more short fiction, but I’ll be honest: I haven’t written a short story in several years. My short story muscle is weak from lack of exercise, and trying to think of an idea that inspires me enough to write it has been a huge struggle.

If you’re a writer, you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve been working feverishly on a piece for months and you’ve finally finished, but getting started on something new feels forced and uncomfortable. Or perhaps you haven’t had time to write lately at all, so you’re not sure where to begin.

Whatever the situation, you and I both know what it’s like to be stuck. It’s frustrating, and it makes us feel like we hardly deserve to be called writers at all. But don’t worry. You’re not alone, and there are ways to get those creative juices flowing again.

Listen to Music

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Music is my go-to source for writing inspiration. I’m not sure why, but it’s usually all I need to get the juices flowing. If I’m writing a fight scene, I go for epic rock or heavy metal. An inspirational feel-good or love scene? Disney music all the way!

This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I’ve even been known to give my characters their own theme songs. This helps not only with inspiration, but also with understanding my characters. And I’m not going to lie: it’s so cool to imagine my story has been made into a movie, and to think about what music will be playing in the background when a character is introduced.

Try it! At the very least, you’ll learn a little more about your characters.

Talk it Out

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Granted, talking about your story with someone isn’t always an option. Many of us don’t have that special friend, parent, or significant other we feel comfortable enough to share our deepest thoughts with.

But if you do have that person in your life, talk to them about your stories. Bounce ideas off them. If you haven’t done this in the past, trust me, you’ll be astounded by how energized and inspired you will feel after the conversation.

When I was in high school, I had a friend whose imagination was easily as wild as my own. She was no writer, but she was delighted when I’d write stories about the two of us living in fantasy worlds as powerful heroes. And now that I’m a married adult, my husband is more than happy to offer his own ideas about what could happen in my stories.

Bouncing ideas off another person energizes me more than I can express. So if you have this option available to you, try it! I promise you won’t regret it.

Writing Prompts

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Before college, I thought writing prompts were a stupid idea, aimed at limiting my imagination and creating boring, predictable work. I rankled at the idea of starting a story from someone else’s idea, and felt the result couldn’t possibly be original.

I could not have been more wrong. For some reason, giving a writer limitations can be oddly freeing. Especially when you’re fresh out of ideas and you have no idea what to write, following a prompt will narrow your focus and force you to write something you might never have thought of.

I found some interesting writing prompts at the following websites.

Fiction Writing Prompts – Writing Forward
10 Best Creative Writing Prompts – The Write Practice
Creative Writing Prompts for Young Adult (YA) Fiction – Bookfox

Give this technique a try if you haven’t in the past. You’d be surprised what can happen when you try something new!

Read

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Writers need to read. It’s just a fact. It’s how we develop our own unique voice, learn new techniques, and continuously improve our craft. You can gain so much inspiration by reading, and by branching into genres you haven’t previously tried. You may even get ideas for a type of story you’d never imagined yourself writing.

So be adventurous. Read continuously, try new things, and decide what your favorites are. Most of the time you’ll decide to write in the genre you like most, and there is nothing wrong with that.

If something isn’t your style, don’t force yourself to finish. Only read things that inspire you and capture your imagination. Life is short, so don’t waste your energy on something that doesn’t contribute to your happiness or your craft in some way.

Spend Time in Nature

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Nature has long inspired artists. Think Claude Monet, Robert Frost, and Rudyard Kipling. Even if your writing has nothing to do with the Earth’s beauty, I personally believe striving to describe your surroundings is a fantastic way to improve your descriptive writing skills.

But it goes beyond that. When I’m outside by myself and I feel the warm sun on my face, listen to the gentle breeze stir the trees and the river rush past, it gives me time to quiet my mind. I can take that time to think, but I can also just choose to exist in the moment.

Sometimes, the best way to get inspired is to stop trying.

Summary

So remember, when you feel stuck and the creative juices just aren’t flowing, you can always:

  • Listen to music for inspiration.
  • Get new ideas by talking it out with someone close to you.
  • Utilize writing prompts to generate ideas for new stories.
  • Read something new, or re-read a piece you know sparks your creativity.
  • Clear your mind by spending time in nature.

Do What Works For You!

These are just a few of the ways I inspire myself. I encourage you to give them a try, but please take my advice with a grain of salt. Everyone is different, and what works for me may not work for you in the same way.

Did I miss anything? What tactics do you use to get inspired? I’d love to hear about it! Please let me know in the comments below.

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