Now, I’ve encountered some resistance when telling authors this. They don’t like to hear that they don’t know their own characters as intimately as they think they do. But calm down everyone! It’s not such bad news – and it’s an easy fix.
First – if you haven’t already done it. Write a character sketch. Those of you who play role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons you’ll already know what this is. It’s where you write out a kind of dating chart: Pets, favourite colour, weaknesses, strengths, family, race, loves, hates, etc. Basically whatever you want. There are some good ones on the internet, though I usually just make up my own specific to my project.
Next – give your character a … well… characteristic. A facial tick or special movement like sighing through clenched teeth every time something doesn’t go his way. A word or phrase. An object that the character is never without (if you take it away it’s going to be a big time plot twist). Do this for every big character (or even EVERY character) in your story). It adds dimension and makes the character easy to spot in a crowd.
Now – take your character out for a walk or a cup of coffee. Get to know them and their views on the world. Ask questions that aren’t even in your story – “How do you feel about the politics in Egypt?” “Do you like Fall or Spring?” You don’t have to write these out either. Just play it out in your mind as you’re taking a stroll or sitting in a café staring out the window. Ask yourself how your character would react to the different people you see and why.
Finally – write a short scene (and I mean SHORT, after all you need to get on with writing your original story) detailing an average day for your character. The kind of day they have before you, the writer, screw it all up.
And there you have it. Do this and you will know your character like a best friend. You may even miss them when you are done writing the story. I recommend doing this for ALL major characters: heroes, villains and secondary characters that stick around for any length of time. Although you may not use all you have written in your preparation, the readers will feel your work and it will make your story deeper and more convincing.
So give it a try and see if this technique works for you!