There are many different ways we can develop the characters in our stories, and most of them have been mentioned in previous posts this month. However, I have an additional strategy that works for me. It involves giving a character a personality trait that makes him or her memorable to the reader. This is especially true with the minor characters in our stories.
I first became aware of the need to do this when, a number of years ago, I was reading a middle-grades manuscript to a critique group I belonged to at the time. One of the members commented that Principal Sotelo sounded just like Mom who sounded a lot like Ms. Bradshaw, the teacher, and Mrs. Rutten, the next-door neighbor. I quickly realized I had been concentrating so much on my two main characters (tween girls) that all my adults were one generic blob. What to do?
Our manner of speaking is the first thing people usually notice about us, so I knew I needed to get to work on making these characters sound distinct from one another. Sometimes if a character likes to use a particular word frequently, this adds a special something to her or his persona. But in addition, I decided to give each one a “little something extra,” rolling the eyes, a way of folding arms, maybe even a little nose twitch.
Going back and adding these personality quirks, or traits, would add spark to my main characters, too, I was sure. Of course, we don’t want to overdo something like this. Our stories then are in danger of becoming a set of clichés. But main characters or minor, they can all benefit from the subtle inclusion of a mannerism or word pattern that will make a reader respond to their personalities and avidly turn the pages.