I just spent an hour writing one paragraph, and I might end up deleting all of that. Why? Because I’m writing it from the point of view of a character I don’t really know. He’s in a bar—not an elegant one, but a hole-in-the-wall type—drinking to forget something. What? What is he trying to forget? Why?
I really don’t know. I know he’s going to gain some important information while he’s in this bar, and the man he’s talking to is going to end up dead in a few hours, but that’s it. I haven’t developed the who/why/what of this character. I’m wasting time, and since this character will be a main character in the story, I’d better figure out who he is.
First step for me will be to take a walk (the dog needs one) and simply think about the character. I know basically where the story is headed, so what abilities do I need this character to have? What sort of occupation will allow him to be a part of this story? What weaknesses will he have and how will those affect the story?
I have a several choices on ways to “flesh him out,” so to speak. I can simply mind-map him by putting his name in the center of a blank piece of paper, drawing a circle around his name, and then start jotting down anything I can think of to describe him: people he knows, jobs he’s done, strengths, weaknesses, etc. From that scattering of ideas, I should begin to picture the man.
Or, I could do a detailed character sheet: Name, age, physical characteristics, schooling, where lives/lived, likes/dislikes, job(s), and so on. (I usually get bored halfway through one of those, but they are handy to have when I forget a detail, and they can always be added to along the way.)
Or I could do a character interview. I need to be in a quiet place to do that so I can imagine I’m actually talking to the character and letting the character talk to me. I’ve found I often learn things I hadn’t thought of by using this method. Of course, non-writers think you’re crazy if you tell them your character told you all this.
If you’re interested, here are a few sites that talk about different ways to develop characters.
Now I need to get to work and talk to my characters.