As writers, we know our characters intimately – or at least we should. I would consider mine as close as family, if they lived in our world. When I put them into a story, I don’t write out every little detail. And yet, I’ve found that some readers see them exactly as I do.
After publishing my first book, I had a friend read it, and then I asked her to tell me about the characters. She described them in more detail than I honestly ever had (the trilogy was new in my mind at that point), and I was dumbfounded. How was it that she could see them as I did, with so little help?
We’ve all heard it for years – give your characters their own voices, show don’t tell, know their backgrounds. Evidently it works. I’m not going to lecture you on those things, but instead encourage you to simply build your relationship with your characters. Writers are the rare group who can talk to voices in their heads and still be considered sane – so do that. Know what they would do before they do it. Study them out, until every subtle word you write shows who they are. The end result will surprise you, in a good way.
My niece is currently reading Harry Potter, and we’ve been watching the movies together. When one of the characters was introduced, she said in almost terror, “That isn’t how I imagined him.” The point is, readers imagine. When we do our job, readers get involved – and they walk away not only loving our characters, but carrying them in their hearts. That’s an honor, as well as a responsibility.
Build a relationship with your characters. Find out what they want to be known for. And then, do what you do best: write.
Here’s a great video on characters by Brandon Sanderson.