Everyone has an opinion about the best way to develop and flesh out your characters. There are dozens of tips and tricks, some showy, some not so much. The thing is, we’re all trying to find ways to make our characters more believable, realistic and seem like actual people. I’m not dedicated enough to fill out a questionnaire and I’m not focused enough to create a huge spreadsheet for my plots either. But, every once in a while, some interesting tactic catches my eye and I decide to try it out.
That’s what happened this past week when I was working on my characters for my latest project. I follow dozens of fellow writers on Twitter and every once in a while, take a deep breath and actually scroll through my Twitter feed (something I don’t often have the stomach for because it’s like drinking from a fire hose). But, the last time I did this, I saw an interesting idea proposed by a fellow writer (I’m pretty sure it came from Renée Gendron whom I follow on Twitter (@RenéeGendron) as he is always asking questions about characters to inspire character development! So, thanks, Renée for the inspiration!). This writer proposed that your character should be telling him or herself a lie throughout the story and if they aren’t, then your characters aren’t well-rounded enough.
A couple of days later, I started to really think about this concept and to apply it to just my three main characters whose perspectives will be featured in the narration of the story. I was really surprised at how much it drove the plot and perspective of each character forward when I began to work this into my character development document. One of my characters is lying to herself and tells herself that she is looking to solve the mystery for the well-being of her own children. She is in fact doing it for herself, to distract her from the things that are really worrying her. Another character tells herself that the problems that she has with her husband are her own fault and because of her aspirations. This is also a lie. The third main character is also lying to herself, but I don’t want to tell you too much about that as it will reveal more of the plot than I’m ready to share right now.
The thing is, looking at what lies my characters are telling themselves has been really illuminating when it comes to understanding who they are, their personalities and their own troubles as they see them. Studying these lies has also brought out more questions like: what are the consequences for each of them for solving this mystery? In essence, it has led to more depth – and that’s never a problem.
Creating believable characters who feel like real people takes creativity, patience and commitment. I wrote about a similar topic some time ago when I, somewhat jokingly, looked at interview questions you could ask your characters to help flesh them out. What other interesting questions do you ask your characters as you work to develop them? Please share your insights in the comments!