I like to watch . . .
Not like that, perv, but, yeah, if we’ve met, I’ve likely spied on you, analyzed your movements, wondered at the reason you say a word in a particular way, kept track of the trends in your speech. Kind of creepy, right? Sorry, I’m writing, and I can’t turn it off. Anyway, here’s some tips and tricks I’ve picked up whilst creeping on everyone. After I ramble a bit, I’ll also share a fun (strange, maybe) character development trick/tool I use.
Each character should have their own flavor: word choice and patterns of speech. Also consider how their speech may change depending on who they are around (code switching).
Is there a word/phrase your character likes to use? Maybe they use it repeatedly, possibly even incorrectly. Bonus points if you can think of a reason/origin for why they use this word or phrase.
Listen to the people you know and you’ll notice they’ll always say certain things. Maybe your sister always says, “you know?” after something she says. Why? Maybe she’s worried no one listens to her, so she tacks this on at the end to elicit a response.
How can word choice show character? Think of the way Vizzini from the Princess Bride incorrectly (and excessively) uses the word “inconceivable”. This demonstrates his character. He latches onto this multisyllabic word to sound smart, he thinks he’s a genius and this serves to foreshadow his upcoming loss in a battle of wits against Westley. While you don’t want to do exactly this, obviously, you should consider how you can make word choice work for (or against) your characters.
As you write dialogue, always visualize the character talking. Read it out loud, drop words—most people talk in fragments, especially when they know each other well.
That said, it’s okay to have awkward dialogue, such as stating the obvious, so long as it’s a character trait. However, if you do this, the other characters should call them on it or in some way react to this odd manner of speaking.
What does your character always do when (insert emotion)?
Watch the people you know. Does your partner talk with their hands when excited? Maybe your friend obsessively fiddles with her rings when she explains things? Go on, spy on everyone, it’s fun to be creepy.
Now for the fun I promised, but first, some work:
Write a journal entry from the perspective of your character (preferably in 1st person) ‘cause who writes their journal in third? Weird. Get inside your character, be super honest, this is your (character’s) personal journal where they can write anything and everything without fear, because (of course) afterwards it’s going straight into the fire (not literally, duh). Force your character to reflect on their dreams/goals/past/future. This doesn’t need to be pretty or even cohesive, stream of consciousness is fine, just get into their head for a few pages. Note: This is not something you will include in your story/novel, it’s only an exercise, what you write here will influence how you write this character.
Done? Great! On to the fun. It’s time to discover your character’s personality type. Yep, now that your character is fresh in your mind, you’re going to take a personality test as your character. Answer each of the weird questions only as your character would. Force them to be super honest (and consistent). At the end, you will be rewarded with some literature describing their traits (weaknesses, strengths, etc.).
Now, do this for each of your major characters.
Want More Fun?
What are your favorite character development tricks? Post them below!