Even with the coolest name in history (like Aspen Brooks or Nicolette Antonavich) your character is not going to be able to carry the weight of your book unless you know more about them than height, weight, eye and hair color. You have to understand what makes them tick, how they will respond to the situations you present them with in the course of the book, whether they like Diet Coke or Pineapple Fanta (My protagonist, Phoebe Castro, likes Fanta, by the way).
So what if your character doesn't appear to you in a dream as a fully realized, three-dimensional person who tells you everything you need to know about her? Well, there are a few shortcuts I've picked up along the way to help me move from characteristic to character.
1. Archetypes. When I'm first developing a character, one of my first stops is The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders. This book categorizes male and female characters into eight archetypes each, giving a personality profile for each. And the best part is, once you've figured out who your two main characters are (like Phoebe is a Spunky Kid and Griffin is a Bad Boy) then you can flip to the back to get a rundown of how they react together. Instant conflict and resolution!
2. Zodiac. I use this method less often (usually when the archetypes don't quite nail it for me) but it can give you lots of good stuff, from likes and dislikcopes to favorite colors and foods to where your character holds stress. (I'm a Virgo, so my stress shows up in my stomach. If I ever write a Virgo character, I'll probably use that.) There are tons of great websites where you can get zodiac profiles, but I love The Book of the Zodiac. It goes into great detail about each sign, differences between males and females, work and home life, what their relationships are like. (Plus, it's really colorful!)
3. Collage. I do this for every book. Because I'm a visual learner, I find it invaluable to have a pictorial compilation of my characters. Lots of writers do collages, but here's my method. You'll need some printer paper, scissors, a glue stick, and some magazines.
Step One: Flip through as many magazines as possible. I like TeenVogue, CosmoGirl, InStyle, and Lucky the best. I tear out anything that reminds me of any of the characters in this book. I do collages for all of the main characters and most of the secondary ones, so as I tear stuff out I divide into piles by character. The more I have to choose from the better. At a minimum I need something that will make a good background, a headshot or two of and actor or model who looks like the character, and some clothing and accessories they would own.
Step Two: Build the collage. Start by gluing down a background image that fills up most of the page (this way you won't end up with whitespace left over at the end). Then select a few of the headshot and clothing images, trim them to just the desired element, and arrange them over the background. I always lay these out before I glue so I make sure they all fit. Then snip out the small pictures and accessories and stick them wherever they fit.
Step Three: Finalize the collage with words. This usually requires flipping back through the magazines looking for two things. 1) Words that resonate with your characters. 2) Ransom-note-type letters that you can cut out and use to form your character's name. Sometimes I even outline the letters of the name in a silver Sharpie to make it stand out more.
Okay, those are all my secrets. Do you have any special tips or methods you use to give your character depth and substance?
OH. MY. GODS. -- Dutton, May 2008