If you are a writer, then you are a whole thesaurus of other things too.You are an artist, an architect, a dreamer, a tactician, a politician, an anthropologist, a historian, the list continues.

Today, none of these roles are your concern, because today, you are a psychologist.

As a writer, you should be obsessed with human behavior, because human behavior is what will drive your characters:

  • Why do people do things?
  • What would make someone act a certain way?
  • Why do these people want this, and what are they willing to do for it?
  • What would change their minds?

By now, you know that motivations are important, but what else is there to creating a good character? How do professional writers do it? How badly do you want to do some homework?

Don’t answer that last one. Let’s get into two different techniques that are going to help you improve your characters:

Staring at Strangers

Does this sound like you – you’re twelve pages into your story, and you realize something major. Your protagonist is nothing more than a version of yourself: different hair, maybe, idealized body type, usually, no major flaws that can’t be fixed, and they just so happen to believe in the same ideas you do.

The worst part: you might not even know this is happening.

FEAR NOT. I’ve been there (more recently than I’m going to admit), and there’s a very simple (and maybe even dangerous) fix.

Okay, not dangerous, unless you do something horribly wrong. Have you ever sat in a coffee house, or a restaurant, or the library, and just stared at people? Good, then you’re one third of the way there.

Step two is to write down who you see. Hair color, clothes, movements, how they seem to present themselves, how they relate to the people around them. Easy, right?

The last step is to ask yourself a few questions. What is going on in their heads? What is the most interesting thing about this person? What could they possibly be doing in this place that isn’t what you would expect?

This alone should help shore up your characters with juicy, but very realistic bits and pieces that are true to life. It’s worked for other authors, like Charles Dickens, so it should work for you, right?

Write it all down, write everything you know about your characters down. You need to know as much as possible about them (alright, easy on the physical description there. We don’t need to know how many wrinkles on each hand, do we?). Find a decent character chart, and start getting into your character’s head. Motivations are key, but so are histories, current relationships, and how the world sees them.

What Has It Got in It’s Pocketses?

As for the second technique, I want to share with you an eye-opening phrase that one of my professors once asked me: ask yourself, what does this character keep in their pockets?

You need to know all of the secrets about your characters, because a character with a secret will keep a reader hooked.

Everybody always wants to know.

Go forth and stare! Go out into the world, and watch people. Jot down a few paragraphs for every person you find interesting, until that one finally clicks. Then blog it, and send me a link, because I’m dying to know what’s in your characters’ pockets.


Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to comment (with a link to your sketch, if you like), like, and follow the blog!

Image courtesy of ginoandsharonphotography via Flick Creative Commons.