One of the most important parts of a story is you main character, without whom the story is just a nice detailed description about something happening. That is not to say that you can’t write a story that has no main characters, but that is a whole other post.
Just like in life, if you are going to introduce someone to someone else, you have to know either one or both of the parties involved. If you don’t you end up with one of the awkward pauses.
“ummm I forgot your name, I would like you to meet, ummm oh geeze I forgot your name as well.”
This is an extreme circumstance but, the point is you need to know the person you are going to be introducing to the readers. Otherwise everyone feels very left in the dark.
Hello Character, how are you today?
A lot of the writing instructors that I know suggest that you can do this with a character bio. Basically, if you are not familiar with the term, a character bio is basically a list of question that you would want to know about anyone before you let them watch your kids. For example:
Name, First and Last
Date of Birth
An outline of a typical day
You don’t have answer all of these questions, but the more you know about your character the better. The problem with a character bio is that is like any other list of information, it is dry data. It is like, if I may steal a line from Mic Dundee, medium rare ‘guana, you can live on it, but it taste like s***. And I always have trouble with is that last question.
Take your character out to the local bar and Grill
I suggest taking this a step further. I suggest that you get your character to move in with you. Not literally, but in your head take you character with you where ever you go for a few days. It does not matter that you are and industrial waste engineer and your character is a galactic beauty queen. There are situations in everyone’s day that will match up. When you go to lunch, how would Priscilla deal with the crusty lunch guy behind the counter? What about when she is driving home, and the guy in front of her cuts her off, how is she going to deal with that?
Understanding how your character would deal with everyday things is one of the keys to giving your character depth. I don’t know this for sure of course, and I would never accuse anyone of anything but, I bet when Ms Ellis took Nina out to the neighborhood bar and grill, watching her remove the head of the overzealous waiter, let her know just how Nina would react in just such a situation in the story. It is that level of detail that takes your character off the page and into your readers head.
Even for a short story you need to know your character well enough to know how they are going to react in every situation you are going to put them in. Knowing how they will react to life’s little ups and downs will help you to put them in the situation where they just got fired from the local taco hut, or lost another friend to the local man eating dragon.
Don’t ask don’t Tell
One the most important things that you need to remember is that you don’t have to tell the reader everything about your character. You want to leave some mystery, and trying to fit all that detail into a story, even a long one, tends to lead to info dumping, and that is never a good thing. If your charter is overly tall you don’t have to let us know that in the first scene as she stares in the mirror at her beautiful wavy hair, or her sky blue eyes that seem to change as the deep sea currents pull the ship down toward the bottom. But if she bangs her head on ever bulkhead she walks through we might still get the point.
Another good reference on Building characters, from several diffrent points of view can be found at KM Weiland’s blog http://wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com/search/label/Characters