Denise Robbins

Character Development - Making Your Hero/Heroine Come To Life

Besides having an interesting storyline, what else is needed to create a sellable novel?

Characters. . .characters that through the writing of your story come to life, become “real”, and move your story forward. As a reader you sympathize with the characters of a novel, love or hate them, feel their anger and fear, and every emotion in between. Before the end of a really good book, you as the reader practically know what a character will say or do before you read it.

How do you as the writer make those characters come to life? How do you get to know your characters, what they look like, what drives them, and how they react?

One technique is to interview your characters.

“What?” You ask with slack jaw and wide eyes, wondering if I’m crazy.

“Nope, I’m not.” Much.

Character interviewing is a powerful tool in developing your fictional characters. A fellow writer of mine does this interview technique by sitting down and switching seats depending on if she’s acting as interviewer or interviewee. You could do that or have a friend be the interviewer and you answer the questions as the interviewee. If neither of those ideas appeals to you, you can type out a list of questions, get in the mindset of your hero or heroine, and answer the list for that character.

One way to start the interview is to visualize the character in your mind. I’ve met a couple of writers who flip through magazines looking for their characters likeness, cut them out, and then paste them to their storyboard as added inspiration. Visualizing your characters give the sense of their existence.

You don’t have to have an exact photo of your hero or heroine, just some generalization that will allow you to know who you’re “talking” with.

Now that you can picture that character in your mind, what do you ask? Start with the basics.

  1. What’s your name? (first and last)
  2. Physical appearance (age, looks, clothing)?
  3. Marital status (married, divorced, children)?
  4. Family (parents, siblings, other influential family member)?
  5. History/Backstory (education, job, where from)?
  6. Characteristics (verbal expressions, habits, objects carried)?

After you’ve figured out who your characters are, you need to get to know them. If you don’t ask the “get-to-know” questions in any logical progression your character will reveal his or her self. Think of it as being on a first date. You’re sitting across the table from someone you met and are really interested in, and to make sure the guy is at least close to Mr. Perfect you play TWENTY QUESTIONS.

  1. If you had a free day and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?
  2. What are you most proud of about your life? (Get an answer to this on a personal as well as a professional level.)
  3. When you wake up in the morning what’s the first thing you do?
  4. What are you most ashamed of in your life?
  5. Do you think you've turned out the way your parents expected?
  6. What have you always wanted to do but haven't done? Why?
  7. What is the worst thing that's happened in your life? What did you learn from it?
  8. Tell me about your best friend. How did you meet? What do you like about this person? What do they like about you?
  9. What is the worst thing you've ever done to someone? Why?
  10. What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
  11. Describe your ideal mate. If you found the ideal mate would you want to marry?
  12. What is your greatest fear?
  13. What is the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?
  14. When you’re driving down the road, what music do you listen to?
  15. What do you like best about yourself? Least?
  16. How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?
  17. What makes you angry?
  18. How do you express your anger?
  19. What is your favorite breakfast?
  20. What do you want to avoid?
  21. What flaw must you overcome?

Don’t forget about the reactions of one character to another. These interview questions allow you to get into the emotional side of your characters and how they interact with each other. The answers to these questions can help identify the conflict and motivation in the characters.

  1. What attracts you to the other character?
  2. What repels you about the other character?
  3. What will you have to give up in order to be with the other person?
  4. What do you have that the other one wants/needs/lacks?
  5. What does the other character have that you want/need/lack?
  6. Why will you be better people together? What can you give each other?

Your readers don’t need to know everything. Answering these kinds of questions allows you the writer to get into the head of your characters.  It makes it easier for you to identify what your character will do, how your hero or heroine will react in a given situation. When a scene comes up where your hero is sitting in a diner in the middle of nowhere you’ll know he orders five eggs over easy with well-done bacon, and a grilled English muffin versus Texas French toast without powdered sugar on top.

Better yet, when an argument ensues between your hero and heroine you’ll be able to describe his passive-aggressive behavior compared to her get-in-your-face approach. And even though their reaction is polar opposite to that situation, the hero is drawn to the heroine because she knows how to push his buttons like no other woman.

One more note before I go. If you really want to get to know these characters, don’t just write down their answers to each question, write down how they react, what’s their posture, the sound of their voice, their facial expression.

“Do you have a significant other?”

“No.” His clipped response and narrowed eyes told me not to push.

“What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?”

A muscle in his jaw tightened and his hands curled into fists. “Not being there to save the woman I love.” From his use of the word love not loved I learned my hero was still in love with the woman.

“What do you do for fun?”

“Fun?” Leaning back in his chair, rubbing his fingers across his dimpled chin, his brows drew together. “Fun? Hm.” My character had to think about that. Was he kidding? He needed some fun, and quickly.

When you picture your character as a living, breathing, person their nature and personality come to life. The more you know about your characters, the more real they become to the reader, and the more they bring your story to life.