I’ve been fortunate enough to play roles in our local theater, such as Anna in The King and I. (My favorite musical. I still have the ball gown I made.) Little did I realize that my acting would be ideal practice for developing characters in my books, only instead of playing one role, I play them all.
When I created a character on stage, I had many things to consider: physicality, back story, motivation, just to name a few. The audience isn’t privy to the character’s internal dialogue, so everything must be shown. Very good practice for the “show don’t tell” rule.
When you begin, you must decide how your character moves. Are their movements always hurried or do they shuffle along, not letting their feet get too far off the ground? Do they swagger, sticking their pelvis out, or are they collapsed in on themselves, shoulders hunched? The way your character moves tells your readers something about them. Decide how you want them to be perceived and match the movements. Be consistent. If the way they move changes, it had better be for a very good reason.
Next, look at mannerisms unique for that character. Does your heroine play with her jewelry whenever she’s trying to avoid a situation? Does your hero steeple his fingers when he’s thinking? These “tells” can also help show that your hero and heroine are very familiar with each other. For instance, in my book Love’s Guardian, my heroine twists her bracelet whenever she’s nervous. At one point, my hero doesn’t say anything, he simply reaches over and keeps her from her nervous habit.
Then you have to decide how your character dresses. What’s their style? We all have clothing preferences. Do they wear trendy matching outfits, casual clothes for comfort, or anything in shades of blue? If you write historicals, does your character keep with the fashion of the day or shun convention?
Oh, and let’s not forget the voice. Is there an accent, what kind of syntax do they use, is it a pleasant voice or does it raise peoples hackles? Forget “said” and give me an idea of how the character sounded when they tell their terrible secret. Emotion reads in the voice as it does on the face.
Ah, facial expression. Does your character have crow’s feet from laughter or squinting in the sun? Can they only raise one eyebrow? Remember, especially in an older person that the expressions they do all the time will show on their face.
Finally, as an actor, you have to decide how lines will be said based on the character’s back story and motivations. As authors we have to make our character’s dialogue reflect who they are and differ their dialogue from others in the story. I had fun with this in my new book. (To be released July 20th.) In Highland Yearning, the hero has a Scots burr and uses formal syntax, while my heroine speaks her mind and has a more casual speech pattern.
Have any of you created characters on stage? I’d love to hear what part you played, and how you developed your character.