I've been reading How To Write Short Stories for Magazines--and Get Published! by Sophie King. She gives wonderful tips on how to develop characters so I thought I'd share my notes.
Thumbnail sketch of a character
Goal: give each character a unique voice, something that will make that character stand out in a reader's mind.
In a couple of paragraphs we need to communicate how a character
- interacts with other characters
First Layer: Behavioral Quirk
In real life you know people you'd describe as a "character", people who you might not like but who you can't stop thinking about.
Make a list of these people and one quirk that stands out in your mind. For instance:
- A woman who looks in the mirror every time she passes one.
- A person who has a strange voice, either too high and squeaky or too deep.
- A person who is always dropping names.
- Someone who is always telling stories, jokes.
Second Layer: Dialogue: Trademark phrase
Have one or more of your characters overuse a figure of speech. For instance, a character who says "know what I mean?" after each sentence.
Third Layer: Characteristic Mood
For instance, one character might be a worrywart, another might be kind to a fault, and so on. (This is also known as a Trait. See: Tags, Traits and Tells.)
For a list of mood words, click here: Mood Words.
Fourth Layer: Helping Characters
For instance, your main character might take her dog everywhere she goes. It could be small and yappy or huge and friendly (or vice versa). This also creates opportunities for conflict with a character who hates animals.
The helping character doesn't have to be a pet, it could be a child or a needy neighbor, or a moody teen, the possibilities are endless
Number Of Characters
Sophie King advises that in a story of 2,000 words or under to try and keep the number of characters to three or four.
Make sure every character is essential to develop the story
Here's an exercise to help determine if a character is essential to the story:
- List all the characters in the story.
- Beside each character list their role in the story.
- If you took this character out of the story what would you lose? If the answer is 'not much' then cut them or combine them with another character.
Something significant should happen every three or four paragraphs.
- A change of scene
- A character makes a discovery
- Character talks with someone new
Other articles you might like:- Fate Core And The Creation Of Magical Worlds
- Roleplaying Games, Writing, And The Creation Of Magical Systems
- Analyzing Story Structure
Photo credit: "رقص گلبرگ" by seyed mostafa zamani under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.