Character creation is one of the best parts of writing.* Making those people out of your brain dust, moulding them into who you need them to be. And, occasionally, discovering that they’ve somehow decided who they’re going to be on their own time. Don’t ask me how that works. Sometimes people just turn up, like they walked into my head from someone else’s. Not a comforting thought, that. I hope they remembered to lock the door behind them.
But to make those characters real, they need real characteristics. They can’t just be The Sports Girl, or The Overprotective Guy, or The Crazy Neighbour. They need idiosyncrasies. Habits of speech. Gestures they repeatedly make. Things they do when they’re angry, or upset, or in love, or surprised as hell.
The good news: I know just where you can get some of that stuff.
This is a great time to start surveying the people you know for raw material. Now, I don’t mean that you should just make someone you know into a character and insert them into your story. You’ll end up with a lot of fights if they catch on and are not be pleased with their fictional portrayal. Seriously, step away from that. It does not go well. And it’s fucking lazy.
Besides, you don’t need the whole person. Just a few pieces.
You need their weird parts: your friend’s walk, like she’s got something wrong with a knee. Your neighbour’s habit of spinning his wedding ring around and around while he answers a question he doesn’t want to. Your uncle’s way of ending every sentence with ‘there’: “How you doing there?” “We need to get rid of those lemur carcasses there.” “Your aunt’s banging the mailman there.”
Little things fill out a character and make them more real. After all, real people do stuff like that. I sure as hell do. Just don’t go overboard and give everyone three ticks that makes them advance across a room like a clockwork automaton. But to make those characters into real people that the reader cares about, they need…quirks. So look for them in your everyday life, and use them.
And practice saying, “Do you do that as well, Aunt Sadie? I never noticed. I guess it was just my subconscious at work!” with a straight face.
*That and being like unto a god. Which is part of the same thing, I guess.