Aristotle defined or measured characters as good, appropriate, like and consistent. Forrester compacted these four labels into two. Round and Flat. If a character never surprises the reader it is flat. Burroway suggests we do away with the starchy labels and “whoever catches your attention may be the beginning of a character.”
Start a character with what you can see. Age, gender, features, gestures and clothing. Find a feeling from the things you observe and then invent a reason this character is wearing these clothes and standing in this place.
Ray suggests adding motives, wants, cast the characters into roles, antagonist, protagonist and helpers, give them snippets of dialog. Write fast and call it a discovery. Don’t fuss over things at the start. Your bad girl may turn out to be your helper or even your protagonist.
Who are You?
Let your characters develop on the pages of notebooks, sketch pads, character files in e-folders on your desk top computers or your cellphone. Just get it down, somewhere, or you’ll never know your characters well enough to take you to the end of the story.
Sketch a few characters, then give them back-stories. Let them have dreams, filled with symbolism. Then ask them to show you what they keep in their closets, under their beds. Dress them up. Do anything you want, you are creating. Round file the flat characters, you’ll know when. Re-cast them in roles, a bad or evil character doesn’t know she is mean and destructive.
Most of the content for this article came from Robert J. Ray.
Join us on Wednesday for a Mini-Topic Chat on Writing New Characters