We all love to read books where characters jump off the page. Not only can we imagine what these people look like, but their idiosyncrasies and faults are also evident. They appear real, and we remember them long after we’ve finishing reading their story.
So, how do readers become so passionate about a character who only exists on the written page?
The short answer is that the character is three dimensional. Not only has the author described the character’s appearance, but flaws and strengths in personality, and how the character deals with the ever increasing tension as he strives to reach his goal. We will also have observed the changes that occurred in the character as the story progressed. This all adds up to the reader caring for, and relating to that character.
How to tackle character development is entirely up to the individual. Some authors start by creating a detailed list of each character’s physical attributes and personality traits etc., while others might start writing while only having the merest idea of their character’s vocation, general appearance, personality type and background.
I tend to do the latter. To start with, I give a few physical details that will help the reader imagine this person. After all, I have a whole book in which to describe (show don't tell) my character’s flaws and quirks without putting it into one paragraph as soon as he or she is introduced. Here is an example from Murder At The Rocks.
Tall and lean, his refined features enhanced by deep blue eyes, Nicholas Harford cut an imposing figure as he strolled through Terminal 4 of the Los Angeles International Airport for his flight to Sydney and the last leg of his long journey home. Uppermost in his thoughts was his father, Edward Harford, and their estrangement which had led, in part, to his journey to South America. The other reason for his year-long sojourn was his entanglement with Claire, the wife of a friend and colleague. But it was the inevitability of being captured once again by Edward’s oppressive ways that kept him away. Only when Andrew Pemlett’s letter caught up with him in Ecuador with news of Edward’s ill health did Nicholas contemplate returning to Australia.
I then sprinkle any quirks my characters have throughout the book, and repeat some of these so as to refresh my reader’s memory. For example, in my Fitzjohn mystery series, Fitzjohn’s wire framed glasses are mentioned often as is his rotund shape.