Pull out paper and pen.
It’s time for a writing exercise. And a simple one at that.
Today, we want you to write down the names of ten people you know and love (or know and hate. Yes! Do include the people you don’t get along with.)
Make your list.
Now go back and fill in all the details of who those people are.
Add quirks and distinguishing marks, both personally and physically. Paint a picture of all these individuals. Make these descriptions detailed.
Would I recognize your Mary Margaret if I saw her walking down the street by the way you have described her? Or would she just be a faint outline? Fill in all the details.
Answer these things–What do your ten people want from life? What do they really want? What matters most to them? What are they afraid of?
What I’m asking you –in a really long way, is not just what do they look like but what do they think like? How do they act and etc.
This exercise can help train you for when you write your own characters in two ways.
One, you start to understand how to make a character look and feel real. You search for the characteristics that set people apart, make them distinct and original and your friend (or enemy). The second thing this does is shows you how to borrow from people you know. What about Mary Margaret would be cool as a part of your main character?
Whenever I write, I’m always borrowing from people I know. When I wrote My Angelica I borrowed Cheri Earl as a character. The teen is a bit sassy. She kisses any boy she wants, even if they are standing with their girlfriends. She’s not afraid of much. While Cheri has stopped kissing strangers, for the most part, she is very much brave and funny and, yes, sassy.
When I wrote If I Forget, You Remember I borrowed from some neighborhood bullies and put them on the pages almost exactly as they were in real life. And they got it in the end of the story, too.
So, if you’re a good friend of mine, look for yourself in the pages of my books. And yes, I’ll use your name, thank you very much.
Your characters are the vehicles of your novel. Make them real and your reader will connect to you and want to follow along for the ride.
Tim Wynne-Jones author of the Rex Zero series writes an incredibly real main character in these three novels. So go look for those books as a great example of characterization.