The Professor is here today to share a few tips on developing well-rounded and layered characters. As in his last tip, Interviewing Your Characters, The Professor believes that police investigators have what it takes to concoct believable fictional characters, and here’s why you should add a few of these suggestions to your writers’ toolkit.
When officers search a suspect’s apartment or a murder victim’s home, they’re not only looking for physical evidence of the crime, they’re also seeking information about the current resident. Therefore, they take a good hard look at the possessions in the home, because those personal objects tell a vivid story.
While conducting the in-depth search, detectives are essentially reading an autobiography. They’ll learn things such as the person’s favorite color, their favorite authors, the extent of their wealth (if any), secrets (a diary or journal), left- or right-handed, natural hair color, travels, family history, etc.
The Professor suggests that writers may want to build a list of the personal possessions of the character-in-progress. Doing so will greatly assist them in developing a character’s personality, and how the character goes about his/her daily affairs.
Lets say you’re developing a female protagonist—a woman who’s known for her superb crime-solving abilities. You might want the reader to see the sleuth’s home as a place crammed full of mystery novels and forensics manuals, magnifying glasses of all sizes, and a fully-functional DNA lab in the basement. However, her most prized-possessions are, oddly, a large assortment of big, floppy straw hats.
As the readers step into your character’s kitchen they see weight loss products lining the counter (has she struggled with weight issues?). The cabinets are filled with canned goods, pots, pans, dishes, and an assortment of tea blends from all over the world. Everything is arranged by size and they’re placed in alphabetical order. The kitchen is spotless. Like the rest of the house, not a thing is out of place, and you couldn’t find a dust bunny if you tried. A tour of her bedroom closet exposes only comfortable, flat shoes and print dresses in various hues of red. Her medicine cabinet contains denture cream, Ibuprofen, and hair dye.
Have you started to develop a mental picture of the character yet? Do you have some sort of idea of her mannerisms? If you close your eyes are you beginning to see someone who maybe looks a little like this …
So, now that we have an outline of our character, and we know a bit of her personality (she’s a neat freak who prefers comfort over style, and she loves, loves, loves, tea), we can start to add some color between the lines. To do so, writers should take a look at their character’s possessions and then ask why they possess each of those items.
The denture cream. Does she own it because she actually has dentures, or, is there a gentleman caller with detachable upper and lower plates who often spends the night? How about the assortment of exotic teas? Does she drink the stuff, or is she merely an eccentric collector? Are the tea packets souvenirs from extensive travel? Maybe her gentleman caller is an airline pilot who picks up the various blends during his extensive travels.
So, you see, building a character can be fun. All you have to do is unlock your imagination and travel to where your warped little writer-minds take you, no matter how goofy the place may be …