The 3 Pillars of Bringing Your Character to Life
Some characters jump right off the page, and now you can make yours one of them! At the heart of it all, there's three core pillars to making this happen: details, presence, and voice. These give characters that bit of flair, pizzazz, personality.
Pillar 1: Details Build the Skeleton
Details create the skeleton of your character, provide a shape for you to fill out and decorate later. The more details you have, the more alive your character will seem. However, just as with your own skeleton, it is not a good idea to rip it out and show it to everyone else; you'd just turn into a useless pile of meat then, and die, and that would not be good. The same can happen to your character. So the trick, then, is to show the shape of your character without "ripping" everything out.
BUILD THE SHAPE - ANSWERING 2 IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
The more details the better, but you can create a character with personality if you answer two important questions: where is the character going? and why are they going there? This provides the character with a motivation, and any character without a motivation will fall entirely flat. If you know nothing else about your character, you need to know this. It's what gives your character the fire needed to get anywhere.
Having the answers to these questions likely answers other questions about your character as well, such as where they came from and what put them on this path.
SHOWING THE SHAPE - SHARING THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF DETAILS
It's super easy to not rip out the skeleton of your character if you just don't outline every single possible detail. So why come up with all those details? Why bother answering any questions if you can't talk all about them? Part of what makes characters interesting is a bit of mystery surrounding them, and that's eliminated when we know too much about the character. The trick is to give just enough information to entice the reader, make them want more. This is also more realistic, as when we meet new people we don't automatically know everything about them either.
An easy way to do this is to simply cut most of the details you give in half. For example, if your character has a scar across an eye- it's enough to mention that they have a scar. We do not need the story of how it got there right away. If your character had a bad relationship with their father, we don't need to know why it was bad right off the bat- just knowing that it wasn't good is enough to get us going. We start wondering how the character got that scar and why that relationship wasn't good- and we'll keep reading to find out why.
On that note, it's important to keep building on the details already given out. Somewhere down the line, we want to be told that that scar came from a broken beer bottle in a fight with Sugar Sally. But! Make us wait to find out what the fight was about.
Pillar 2: Create a Presence
Much can be said without a single word being spoken, and this is the trick to creating a presence for your character. You want your character to be instantly recognized by the reader, even if they're not immediately noticed in whatever room they're in. In order to do this, you need to get your character to speak without saying a thing.
APPEAL TO THE SENSES
How does the character look? What do they smell like? How do their footsteps- their breathing- sound? What kind of shadow are they casting, literally or figuratively? How is the character looking at everything and everyone else? What has the character noticed?
This is also best when given in small doses: everything about the character doesn't need to be described immediately. Pick the most striking things about the character and introduce them first. In the posts that follow, toss in other sensory information.
This also mimics real life, as it's highly unlikely that you're going to take in every single detail of a person who just walked up to you before speaking with them. You notice things about them as you talk with them. This is roleplay and not real life, of course, but mimicking the way information is taken in creates a more authentic experience that makes the character seem more life-like.
The character is alive, taking up space, doing things. Always remember that in every single post. Even if your character is standing still, they're still breathing, standing, sitting a certain way. Include this information in your posts, even if it's just to say that the character remained as still as a statue.
USE BODY LANGUAGE
Did you know that most of our communication happens non-verbally? It does! Our body language gets our message across almost better than our words do, and the same is true even in RP. Become conscious of your character's body language, what certain gestures and expressions mean. Reuse them when the situation calls for it.
Pillar 3: Each Voice is Unique
Each character should have their own unique "voice." Not just how they sound in dialogue, but in the way their introspection is delivered, how the character is described, and even the word choice and sentence structure used to do all those things. You want your character to be identified simply by the words used to describe them, even if no name, image, or full description is given. This is also the best way to show their personality without even having to use dialogue, as the voice of the character should come through even in introspection or in the description of scenes.
REPETITION CREATES RECOGNITION
Two characters might rub their hand down their mouths when they're nervous or lying, but the way that motion is described should be different between each character. For example:
"Swiping his hand down his chapped mouth, Jeremy pushed a shallow exhale out his widened nostrils and tore his stare away from Delilah."
"A trembling hand skated past Tucker's parted lips, breath tickling over delicate knuckles. Swallowing noisily, he avoided meeting Delilah's gaze."
By reusing words and phrases like 'swiping', 'chapped', 'pushed', 'tore', and 'stare' in the appropriate situations, we can start to associate them with Jeremy. The same can be said of 'skated', 'delicate knuckles', 'swallowing noisily', and 'avoided' for identifying Tucker. Recognition is critical in creating a memorable character. We don't remember people that haven't made an impression on us, and you don't want your character to be forgettable even if their ambition is not to be the center of attention.
VOCABULARY & WORD CHOICE
A character's vocabulary and word choice can reveal a lot about them without you having to do much work at all, but it's important to keep it consistent. If a character is often using grandiose words, then it would be strange for them to suddenly dumb down the way they're talking without a cause. That being said, people use different kinds of language based on the situation they are in and the subject matter. It's important to keep these things in mind, as that shift is what will allow the reader to be drawn in to the character's interests and disinterests. A character that's not definitely interested or not interested in something feels flat and unrealistic.
LAY ON THE ATTITUDE
If no personality comes through in your writing, then the character will come across as boring. Even if you aren't writing out what your character is feeling or thinking, we can still get an idea of it based on the words being used to describe the situation, and that's where the personality comes from- which is what makes the character pop off the page!
For example, it's possible to share how a character feels about being in a crowd without stating explicitly what the character feels. Example:
"The oppressive crush of the idiotic concert-goers made it almost impossible to make it to the foot of the stage, and by then the hellish music had a headache pounding in his temples."
"The lively twist of the enthralled crowd swayed to the sound of a song with heavy bass as he made his way to the foot of the stage."
Even if they are in the same place and experiencing the same thing, one person clearly is not enjoying themselves. Pushing the attitude is what helps to give a character their own voice.
Details, presence, and voice are the three basics needed in making a character pop. Laying a strong foundation for these three pillars will be immensely rewarding and help you deliver your character in a way that will make them unforgettable to read about!