You might start with a single idea for a scene with that character, maybe a general impression of what the character is like, but to carry through a novel, you need a real depth, a real sense of connection to that character. It needs to be established to the extent that when you throw a couple of your characters into a room together, they start talking, loving – or fighting – straight away, and the dialogue has a sense of reality.
Sometimes that sense of connection is easy to establish. It is certainly easier for some characters rather than others. There is always the Gatecrasher as well – a likely sign that things aren’t working. If your host of characters persists in being ‘flat’ your subconscious will rebel by spontaneously creating a character that highjack’s the action. Now some people – particularly pansters – let this Gatecrasher in and watch how the story changes. I’ve tried that, and a few disasters later I have decided that the Gatecrashers (except in very rare circumstances) have to be ruthlessly culled. Then you have to go back to your characters and see what the heck isn’t working. Now I’m not talking about the plot development stage – at that point you WANT new characters to spontaneously generate – I am talking about when you are trying to get these onto the page.
Kate had some good ideas yesterday about social setting and how this might influence character. When I am struggling to connect with a character I often go through a fairly structured process to flesh them out, where I will look at a number of different categories, like:
- Background – where did they come from? Where did they grow up?
- Early life – what sort of things formed them?
- What do they do? – It's amazing how often you forget this. Before the amazing events of your story, what did they do on a day-to-day basis? This will define where they were at the outset, what responsibilities they may be leaving behind, even their relationships.
- Love – have they been in love? Can they love?
- Love in the book – is there a romance?
- Friendship – who are the people in their life? Who defines them?
- Desires – what drives them. What are they searching for on conscious and unconscious levels.
- Fears – what are they scared of (and not just not getting the their desires) – what phobias do them have – very useful for building tension
- Journey – what are they going to learn on their quest. Will they fail?
By the time I have worked through this, even the most stubborn character will start to come to life – or will have morphed into something I can work with.
So what tricks do you use to get your characters to flow? Or is your challenge reining them in?