What I like to do is make notes of people and the odd things they do and use them later. For instance, I have this character I like to use a lot as a minor character. She has the occupation of a woman I once knew, the tongue and temper of another and the looks of a third woman I knew. The one thing these three women had in common in real life is that they were outrageous. We have a tendency to want to write as if we were the main character, perhaps because we’re inside them as much as we are inside ourselves. This can limit you if you don’t have a lot of self-knowledge or if you are afraid of your self-knowledge.
My characters used to come out quite wussy until I realized that I was trying to force them into my notion of being nice, being the way I wanted to be. So now I like to chuck in a handful of spice from other people I know. You all know them…the people who drive you mad with their illogic, their sheer evil, their addictions, their foibles. Take a pinch of this and use it. It’s human nature.
One of the leading causes of rejection by a publisher is poorly developed, one-sided characters.
Characters should have four sides:
general – traits formed by heredity and environment
physical – the person’s physical traits
emotional – the mental or psychological traits
personal – the social or ethical traits
How to reveal character
As I was watching a baseball game, a group of people in the crowd held up a banner that read: The game does not build character, it reveals it. In essence, that is what characterization is all about. You let the novel reveal the person’s character.
First of all, a character must be in conflict with some part of his or her environment. The protagonist in conflict with his or her environment is the basis of the novel. This is how you chose to show the story, theme, human nature and meaning in your novel. In your novel, nothing “just happens”. Everything you chose to include in your novel has to relate to the central focus of your story. What does your protagonist want and will he or she get it?
Character is revealed by:
action when the emotional responses are also revealed.
It is important to show whether there is a difference between what the person does and what the person thinks. If someone is being kind, is it because that person is truly kind? Or is she doing something nice in order to get something for herself.
You must record the person’s feelings about what he or she is doing. Example: Kathy is a secretary with the boss from hell. On Boss’s Day, Kathy gave the boss flowers and a gushy card thanking the boss for all the help and guidance the boss has shown Kathy.
You write a description about Kathy taking the flowers in and arranging them on her boss’s desk. Unless you reveal how Kathy feels writing the card and arranging the flowers, you might think she likes her boss. Knowing that she is disgusted with herself and thinks about the boss’s being run over by a bus on the way to work, changes your view of her character. If you knew that she was feeling smug about fooling the boss into giving her a raise by buying the flowers and card, you’d think about her in yet another way.