I personally like the character sliders that Brandon Sanderson talks about in his YouTube classes on writing.
A friend of mine likes to choose a couple characters from TV and combine them in unique ways. This particularly helps if he gets stuck while writing later, since he can go watch an episode of TV, which almost always helps him get rid of writers block.
Others will do interviews with their characters. I find that this can work if the questions are both interesting and open ended enough.
Another option is a list of likes and dislikes. This can come in the form of favorite foods or colors etc. I don't find this as useful since it doesn't really show off the inner workings of the character. That doesn't mean it can't be relevant occasionally; a character might hate gravy because their parents argued about it as a child. But it's not always the best use of my time.
The last option I'll talk about today is designing a character like they're from a role playing game such as DnD. I mention that one because it's the most well known, but I personally love using the hindrances page from Savage Worlds. It's a list of things that were designed to affect a character in a way that will affect game play. As such it feels almost inevitable that these choices will affect the plot, thus creating more tension and interest.
How do you design or learn about your character?
My favorite part of any story is the characters. It is these people who truly bring the story to life for me. And I’m not just talking about the main characters. The best stories, to me, have fully formed minor characters, a whole world that feels real. This is also something I strive to do in my own stories. As a writer there is one thing I like do to make characters seem real.
Almost every character that appears in my stories has a fully thought out back story written down somewhere. This technique came from my time as actress. It was very important for even the minor characters, even the ones who didn’t speak, to know their motivation in any given scene. This meant creating detailed histories and discussing them with those around you.
One of my favorite theatre stories involves a girl who had no lines. We created an inside joke that two other characters had bet her not to talk for the whole weekend (that the play was set in). This made us giggle every time it would have made sense for her to talk. Though no one in the audience, and very few people in the play, knew why we were laughing, it added another layer to play.
I use this same technique in my writing. Knowing a characters personality and motivation effects everything, from their mannerisms to how they react to people. If you think about it in regards to real life, compare how two people react to a death. Someone who recently lost someone will react more strongly than someone who has not. It is human nature. Since these characters are human it makes sense to create lives for them.
Once your characters have a life, even if your readers never know it, the world they live in will feel more real. This makes your story more enjoyable for everyone.
Picture from Pixabay.com
Competition is a tough nursemaid. We need it to generate fire, impetus sufficient to feel the rush and joy of getting our work just right. That same fire, though, can burn, irrevocably altering our will. It is through careful nurturing of the soul that writers find balance. Enough work, enough play, enough time to mull, some competition, and sufficient time taking in the world. My own recipe includes reading voraciously, watching movies and bingeing on some of the best TV shows ever to grace the tube, travel, attempts at daily meditation, talking with people (friends, cashiers, fellow bus riders, neighborhood kids on scooters, etc.), and work time set aside and jealously guarded. All that, plus work on various projects, volunteer stuff, and family life, leaves little time for competition.
I've thought hard about whether making such an effort is worth it, as I've never made a dime off my writing. In general, competition forces us to produce the best work we possibly can (think Kazuo Ishiguro, whose work from 1989 received the Nobel prize in literature this year). My thoughts have led me to this: writing is habit forming. Like all habits, it becomes a matter of doing, and the more we do, the better we get at doing it. There are a huge variety of competitions for writers, just about something for everyone! Finding it means trips to your local library, pawing through writing journals, talking with writer friends, joining online groups, and keeping your ears and eyes open. And it means writing!
There is tough competition out there, my rejection letter pile is pretty high. Somehow we have to compete with the best around and come through undamaged enough to produce the work that becomes our greatness. Without reaching, we fail to grow. Reach too often, consistently fail, and the work suffers too. There is no perfect formula, it is entirely up to each individual writer to find the balance and know, in their soul, that their work is worthy of the effort.