After establishing the preliminaries with your characters (name, age, gender and physical appearance), you now have to go a layer deeper. Beneath the skin.
As people, we’re all inherently flawed, and everyone, no matter how horrible they may seem, has at least one redeeming quality. What is viewed by one person as outstanding leadership may be perceived as bossiness to another. Loud and brash are the other side of the ‘enthusiasm’ coin. A compassionate, soft-hearted person could just as easily be condemned for being weak and blindly trusting.
Our characters should be so equally multifaceted and dimensional.
So, ask yourself what are their strength and weaknesses?
A great tool to help with layering the personality foundation, is to look at character Archetypes. An example of that would be (for a Hero):
The Chief – he’s a leader focused and centred on nothing but work (flaw). Perhaps he was born into a position that required him to lead, or acquired his responsibilities through conquest, but regardless, his strengths are that he’s tough, decisive, goal-oriented, which can make him overbearing at times, as well as inflexible. Examples of this archetype would be Harrison Ford in Sabrina, Marlon Brando in the God Father.
The female equivalent is The Boss – she’s a ball-busting take charge woman who’s main ambition is climbing the ladder of success and will accept nothing less then the respect she deserves. Rubbing people the wrong way doesn’t bother her in the least (flaw). She’s focused, determined, intelligent and knows how to rally the troops in a time of crises. Examples of this archetype would be Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, Meg Ryan in Kate & Leopold.
If you wanted to take either of these archetypes to the full end of the spectrum towards villain, you’d have: The Tyrant – Power, absolute power at any price is what compels their every thought and action. He’s ruthless and seeks to conquer everything in his path, crushing those who rise against him. His followers are mere pawns to be used and expended as when needed to achieve his goals and desires. Hesitation, doubt and grappling with morality are not things that he contends with. Get in his way and he will kill you. Period. An example of this would be Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter.
So when drafting your characters, always find ways to contradict their virtues with vices. Someone fun loving could prove to be irresponsible. Good leaders can come across as bossy. Skilled fighters are often aggressive, especially when crossed. You get the gist.
For more in depth and detailed list of archetypes, check out Tami Crowden’s website: http://www.tamicowden.com
Now that you understand a bit of their personality make-up and structure through archetypes, now we need to determine their hobbies, interests and skills:
Everyone has a special set of skills, or things that fascinate them. But you need to consider, is it relevant to the plot, to the subplot or to merely give them depth? Readers like contrast and they like quirky. So take into consideration how these skills will affect perception and story development. Imagine a tap-dancing assassin, or a suzy homemaker that is a killer in the gun range. You get the idea.
Skills can also be drafted from personal experiences that help shape and mold your characters into unique individuals and help drive some of their actions and reactions. A chid who grew up under the strict, oppressive guidance of overbearing parents who pushed him/her into being top of the class, head of the school committee or a star athlete may harbour a lot of resentment and repressed hostility.
Surrounding environment can also say a lot about a character by the way they choose to decorate their home/room/office, etc. A bedroom with scattered clothing, skateboard and playboy magazines stuffed under the mattress puts avery distinct imagine in a reader’s mind.
Or, popping open a woman’s purse to find two tubes of lipstick, business cards, slim cigarettes and a sleek little handgun, conjures quite another.
In the end, everything has to have a purpose in order to come together in a cohesive package to be memorable, believable and beloved.
Here’s something to get the creative juices flowing:
Walk around your home. Pick up six objects at random. Collect those items and sit them down in front of you, and think of a character and how those items apply to their personality and/or their past.
A kitchen knife, a hard cover True Crime novel, half finished cup of Green Tea, a framed photograph of a beautiful woman circa 1940, box of Red Velvet Poptarts and a sports bra.
See anything? I certainly do.