The heart of a good novel or film is a strong character (or several). How can you create characters that come alive on the page and engage the reader or viewer?
Recently I read an article in Computer Arts magazine about creating cartoon characters and was struck by how similar it is to creating characters for a novel or script:
* Figure out their psychology. A basic approach is to think about the acronym OCEAN: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism.
* Give them some contradictions. Real people always have some, if you look deeply enough. It separates stereotypes from real people.
* Doodle. Artists often doodle in order to get inspired. You can also do what I call Mental Doodling. Example: The other night there was a little preview clip of a comedian and TV presenter going down a river in Africa. He looks through large binoculars at a monkey in a tree. My mental doodle was the monkey holding a pair of binoculars and looking back at him. There doesn’t have to be any practical application, it’s about freeing up your imagination.
* Think about how the character moves. It might be in line with what we’d expect or it might be a contradiction. For instance, we normally might not expect a bulky man to be a nimble dancer, but it might be that your characters is a star on the dance floor.
Thinking about these elements before you start writing is helpful. So is coming back to it when you're ready to write a second draft. If a character seems flat, considering one or more of the factors above will give you ideas for how to fix that.
(There are many tips for creating great characters, in my book "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)