Wordtrails #42 Character Development in Novels
Character Development in Your Novel
How do we really get to know or identify with characters in a story? How you would know if they were: Shifty? (no eye contact, restless, impatient), Motherly? (stroking child’s hair, fussing about), Domineering? (leaning over you, raising voice, belittling), Cavalier? ( flipping hair, dismissive tone). These suggestions are good but do not really involve emotion.
Now go beyond. Use the five plus senses. Sight- her arched brows drew attention to her smoldering eyes. Touch- flinched away from the slippery moist tongue. Hearing- stole forward towards the faint melody reminding her of her childhood friend. Smell/taste- vomited as the sour metallic odour of coagulating blood overwhelmed him. Tension- muscles stiffened in protest. These phrases may invoke some memories and emotions in the reader. They definitely add to the characterization.
Can you let your reader into your character’s psyche by description, senses, dialogue? We all react to other people using our intuitions, past experiences, reading of body language, social cues and senses.
Your readers should react strongly to your main characters…with their gut. Make them understand. Ordinary characters need to be interesting and somewhat memorable. Minor incidental characters need just something of interest to give your readers focus. If all your characters tap your reader’s emotions, your reader will be exhausted and overwhelmed.
There are many tools an author can use to improve their characterization. A few of my favourites are:
1: Sit and people watch whenever you have the opportunity.
2: Read from a wide variety of novels by well-known authors. This can show us what really works on a page.
3: Base a character on people you know. I might react to X this way because he is an egocentric bully and feel this way about Y because she has a simpering milk toast voice. Be careful to truly disguise any real life sources. Changing names, physical characteristics, and even combining several people will often solve this dilemma.
Let your readers meet your characters; form their first impressions and then go on to discover what makes your characters tick.