As a writer, how do you build well rounded fictional characters without overwhelming your reader with an onslaught of details?
1-Appearance. Don’t describe every little detail of the appearance of a character, focus more on the way other characters feel and react around him or her. Avoid lists at all cost. Sprinkle physical details in between dialogues, let other characters notice peculiarities, let the reader infer physical characteristics by actions (Just like for descriptions, show don’t tell, remember?)
Bad description: Lord Tangur was six feet tall, black hair, dark eyes, a monster of muscle. His disheveled hair fell all over his face. His black armor shone in the dim light. He grinned. Annie was scared.
Better description: Annie, wide-eyed, took in the dark aura that seemed to surround Lord Tangur, towering over her in his black armor. Only Annie’s desk stood between them.
“What do you want from me?” Annie blurted, stumbling backward, her voice shaky.
Lord Tangur grinned shoving aside the desk. A red scar across his left cheek made his dark eyes seem more intense, more alive.
2-Slaughter your characters. Not on paper, I mean boot them out of the book. Do you really need friend 1 to bitch, friend 2 to flirt with the main character’s boyfriend and friend 3 to end up pregnant? No, you don’t. It could be just one friend as long as you develop the character accordingly. Too many characters disorient the reader. Merge several (compatible) characters into one. Sometimes you will sacrifice a bit of side story, but that’s okay. So, how many characters is a good number? It depends on your skill to differentiate them and make them memorable. Just make sure they move the story forward.
3-Avoid similar names or even with names starting with the same initial. It’s confusing. (I do this all the time and then have to change names last minute. For example I had Cal and Sal in one book, in another I had Marla, Maria, and Marta and they were all friends...)
5-Develop your characters. People change, so do characters, but like real people they do so with good reason. Characters have reasons to act the way they do and you want the reader to feel, laugh, and suffer with them. As a bibliophile I’m sure you had at least a WTF moment (or twenty) where a character did something “out of character”, nonsensical, not justified by the feelings the author built in you, the reader, for hundreds of pages. Don’t be that author. You want the reader to think, “YES! That’s exactly what you should do!” and one hundred pages later you want them to think the opposite and not flinch, because things happened, feelings changed.
Below is a great example of character development from the 100, I’m sure you’ve seen the GIF going viral ;) (I did not repost the GIF because I cannot find the original source)
7-Let characters do their thing. Sometimes I have an idea of where the plot is going but then a character takes over and says or does things I would have never expected. Of course I’m still the person writing (I think 0_o) but developing a character is like developing a world. They come up with their own ideas and you are not crazy. Don’t freak out.
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