Writing Advice: How to develop characters

Writer’s Secrets with K.C. Finn…

Ten Things I Do To Develop My Characters

  1. Find them a song. I listen to a lot of music when I’m making notes and developing characters for a new project. I like to find a genre of music that represents the character I’m focused on, and find them a song with meaningful lyrics that relate to their situation. For Kit Cavendish in ‘The Mind’s Eye’, the song was ‘More Than Useless’ by Relient K.
  2. Walk around pretending to be them. Physicality is very important to me because I like to tell my stories as if I’m watching them as a movie in my head. When nobody else is around, I like to get up and pretend to be my main characters. I speak in their voice and move my body and posture as they would, so I can imagine them more clearly in scenes.
  3. Pick an actor to represent them. This doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it really helps me single out the character’s distinctive traits and especially their voice. Dan Stevens is my actor of choice for Steven Bickerstaff, the doctor who appears in all the Synsk novels. His idyllic looks, combined with a permanent frown and a posh voice helped the character come to life in my head.
  4. Give them a piece of myself. I relate to my characters because each one of them has some small trait that I share with them. Some are more obvious than others. Kit in ‘The Mind’s Eye’ obviously struggles with a crippling illness like I do, but I’ll bet you didn’t know that the villainous Victor Webb from ‘Leighton’s Summer’ enjoys composers like Grieg and Wagner. I do, and that’s how I get into his head.
  5. Name them properly. I never give my characters a ‘filler name’, because you’ll find that when you’re writing, those names tend to stick and you can’t get rid of them afterwards. Every character I work on has to have a full name that suits them and sounds right when other characters address them by it. A name is a vital part of anyone’s identity, so it has to be perfect from the start.
  6. Give them scenes that never happen in the books. I may not sit down and write these ‘deleted scenes’, but I will imagine them and act them out to get a full sense of the character. They can be simple things, like how that character would cook a meal or what they’d do to relax, but they add flavour to the creation of the character in the crucial book scenes that really matter.
  7. Draw them, or ‘collect’ them. If I’m able to sketch the character, I will, but sometimes I just don’t have time for that, or I already have an actor in mind who I can look at to spur imagination. What I do tend to do though, is collect pictures online, like the clothes they would wear or the accessories and objects you’d find in their homes, so I can immerse myself in the person and really get to know them.
  8. Treat them as a real person. Maybe it sounds crazy to anyone who isn’t a writer, but if you do your job properly, your character should be as real as your parents or your best friend to you. Stay true to the person you’ve created, and let their personality dictate the way they behave in your story’s scenes. If they’re real enough, you’ll never be unsure of what they say or do next.
  9. Show their faults. Audiences are very interested in what makes your characters vulnerable. Flawless heroes may have worked in stories of the past, but it’s all about the emotion in modern writing. Make sure your character has flaws and failings that are on display, and teach them how to overcome some, but not all of them. Nobody’s perfect, after all.
  10. Put them to the test. Even if it doesn’t all make it into the final book, your characters should have plenty of moments where they come up against obstacles that frighten or challenge them (ideally both). You need to know how your character fights back (or doesn’t, as the case may be), so you can see what they’re really made of. For the central lead of your book, this feature is totally essential.

K.C. Finn is the author of The Synsk Series. 

synskYoung Adult Paranormal / Historical Romance

Book One— The Mind’s Eye— is currently FREE on all platforms.

A girl with a telepathic gift finds a boy clinging to his last hope during the war-torn climate of Europe, 1940.

At fifteen, Kit Cavendish is one of the oldest evacuees to escape London at the start of the Second World War due to a long term illness that sees her stuck in a wheelchair most of the time. But Kit has an extraordinary psychic power: she can put herself into the minds of others, see through their eyes, feel their emotions, even talk to them – though she dares not speak out for fear of her secret ability being exposed.

As Kit settles into her new life in the North Wales village of Bryn Eira Bach, solitude and curiosity encourage her to gain better control of her gift. Until one day her search for information on the developing war leads her to the mind of Henri, a seventeen-year-old Norwegian boy witnessing the German occupation of his beloved city, Oslo. As Henri discovers more about the English girl occupying his mind, the psychic and emotional bonds between them strengthen and Kit guides him through an oppressive and dangerous time. There are secrets to be uncovered, both at home and abroad, and it’s up to Kit and Henri to come together and fight their own battles in the depths of the world’s greatest war.