A character… is a fictionalization of your innocence and honesty. You can never make a dishonest character. Honesty, here, means the clarity of thought with which you approach an idea. If your character is evil, then it is evil… it’s clear in your head. A character which tries to do everything often ends up as a caricature rather than reality.
A character has to be defined within its own boundaries. For this you have to create these boundaries. Now, these boundaries can be as big as a ball park or as small as a self help kiosk at a mall. Your character’s boundaries are the naturally occurring possible reactions and actions that the idea or fictionalized person would undertake in a situation. Let’s say, your character is a person who has been teaching a kindergarten class all his or her life. It won’t be realistic if you depict this person doing somersaults off a helicopter on to the top edge of the Empire State Building. Then you would have to justify that with a rich back story, that is, restructure the boundaries. The basic idea is that the actions and reactions of your character should be realistic. The realism in the story would ultimately create the suspense, emotion, and connect of your story. You have to play with your characters elements within the implied boundaries. This creates the foundation of an engrossing story.
You can define a character in many ways. Just begin at the source, which in the case of your character is your mind. Visualize. Always visualize. If you can’t visualize your character, your reader would not be able to do that either. Think of your story, think of the situation, think of the circumstances, and a simple question. Which kinds of people are most and likely to be in the situation (of the story)? Based on the nature and tone of your story, you can choose one from most or least likely person. Both have their own benefits. The most likely character to be in the story would lead to a start where your audience desires an ‘overcoming difficult situations’. The least likely character in the story would lead to your audience to expect a ‘overcoming inhibitions’ start. Where your story goes from there, however, would not much change in both cases. When you have the vague picture of your character, put the character in a pseudo simulation of the story in your mind. What would this person say in that particular situation? How would this person react to a particular impetus? It is always, when you begin your writing career, to base the core ideals of your character on yourself. It then becomes easier to visualize the characters idiosyncrasies. As you gain confidence, try to move out of your comfort zone and write about characters that are based on people around you. Eventually you would be able to characterize or humanize anyone or anything. This exercise, I should point out, is also a very effective social interaction tool. You might know what you think and feel, but it is difficult to understand the mind of another person. As a writer, you would eventually develop a sense to analyze another person’s mind and how to interpret their behavior. This might help you greatly in your day to day life. It has definitely helped me.
This brings us to the final stage of characterization, transition. The transition in your character might be the core of your story, or it might just be bonus feature. Either way, you would have to utilize your character in some or the other way in your story. The transition, here, doesn’t mean a change or shift in the core beliefs of the character even though that might be the case in many stories. It basically suggests that the character should evolve or unveil itself along the course of the story. The reader would identify your characters when you define them; by the time you are through with your story, your reader should have a better understanding of your character. More often than not, the reader would remember the character more than the plot. More often than not, it would be the character that makes the reader ‘connect’ with the story. It is a tall task to expect your reader to love your character, but it is possible. You just have to basically allow your reader to accept your character as real, even if your characters are three talking chipmunks in an upstate barn.
To summarize, I will lay down the character design process in three words: Visualize, Define, Evolve.