So you’re going to write a story. You’ve come up with some catchy names for your characters, you’ve created a plot arc to know where the action will take you. You’ve decided on the genre, the word count, the point of view. You’re ready to get started writing.
What kind of toothpaste does your main character use?
Huh? What kind of toothpaste? Who cares what kind of toothpaste a made-up person in a fictional story uses? Certainly not the reader, right? RIGHT? Wrong.
Sure, your reader may not need to know about your characters’ personal hygiene habits (unless it’s relevant to the story, of course), but here’s my point: YOU need to know that level of information. If YOU don’t know your characters inside and out, know what their habits and hobbies are, how are you going to make me understand them? How are you going to make me care what happens to them?
I’ve come across a lot of characters in my day (and I do mean ones in books here), and sometimes they were so confusing that I couldn’t really tell why they were going to do what they were supposed to be doing.
For each character in your story, from the main character all the way down to anyone who has any kind of speaking part or interaction in your story, fill a sheet of notebook paper with a sketch, with details about the person, his name, his parents’ names, where he works or goes to school, what he likes to wear, EVERYTHING. It’s a lot of work, but isn’t part of the fun of writing a story in building a whole world for these characters? Why would you create characters, but not become friends with all of them?
SHAMELESS PLUG: The Office of Letters and Light, the company that hosts National Novel Writing Month every year (and a bunch of other really fun programs), has an awesome book in their bookstore called Ready, Set, Novel! In this fill-in-the-blank book are whole pages of character worksheets where you can get to know all of your characters quite well by answering the questions about all of them. I highly recommend it!