When we make new friends we learn about their history, temperament and behavior over time. In the same way, writers introduce someone’s foibles, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. When I start a story, I have some ideas about the main character, the setting and plot, but the protagonist’s hidden struggles emerge as I write. For me, it takes time to discover the individuals I’m creating. I once read a book on character development that stated, don’t produce a wimpy protagonist. Immediately I realized that’s exactly who I had, so I turned my wimp into a neurotic woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Well, at least she was less boring!
One standard technique for giving depth and helping to visualize your character is to construct a biography. Depending on how much time you want to spend on this, you can include events that affect their psychological and emotional development. Determining their appearance is a start but don’t stop at age, physique and gender, include how they feel about themselves. Are they comfortable in their skin? Do they carry any physical scars—if so what is the story behind them? Do they have health problems such as asthma or allergies or mental problems? How does this impact their behavior? Do they overcompensate, if so how? Or do they pretend everything is normal? What is the effect on those around them?
The best way to internalize new information is to use it, and the following exercises will assist you in analyzing your protagonist with the goal of deepening your understanding of the character you’re developing.
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