A couple of years ago, when I was working on my second (and final) draft of Finding Theo, I was lucky enough to get some professional feedback on it, and one of the points of improvement mentioned was to strengthen my characters. One of my favourite things when writing a story is to create characters; I love creating scenes of them in my head interacting with each other, and bouncing their strengths off each other. I have piles of scrap books in my bedroom filled with magazine cut outs of people who I model on my characters. I associated them with colours, brands, TV shows they liked, and the clothes they wore. I really found that this helped me, when I had to imagine how one of my characters reacted in the story, because I knew so much about them. The problem with this was, I began to build my story on my characters, and not the other way round. I was so focused on my characters that the plot began to take on a mind of its own and verge off in directions I hadn't planned (which resulted in a confusing number of sub-plots!) While writing Finding Theo, I had so much fun creating characters to shape my protagonist, that I ended up creating way too many.
I think that's the secret of creating a really fantastic character; whether it be a protagonist or just a nameless stranger who you describe to fill a paragraph. Go into detail, but not too much. You don't want the interest to be taken away from your story, and fully focused on your character. Sure, you want your reader to like, understand, and even empathise with your character, but you don't want them to be the ENTIRE focus of your story. The way I see it, your story should wind around your characters like a long, twisted road; your characters are simply interesting pit-stops on the way. However, don't diminish their importance. With creating great characters, you cannot afford to cut any corners. Characters can make or break a story. I have read books where the plot is absolutely fantastic, but the book has been let down by a character I feel wasn't developed enough, or who I didn't care about enough.
I would strongly advise, if you can draw (which I unfortunately can't), to sketch out your characters. They don't need to be good enough to hang in the Tate. Just some basic details; hair colour, eye colour, the type of clothes they wear, the facial expression they normally use. I have often not spent enough time reflecting on my character's appearance, and end up forgetting the colour of their eyes or their hair. It doesn't seem like the most important thing in the world, but it does get confusing when you can't remember whether your protagonist has blonde or brown hair. If you can't draw (like me), you can still visualise, or make some basic notes. You could even try the scrapbook idea; it may be more successful for you than it was for me. The important thing is being able to visualise your character, like you would be able to visualise the face of your best friend or a family member.
As far as inspiration goes, use the world around you. While on the tube, or walking across the beach, I will always see someone who will instantly inspire a character. TV shows and films is also a good place for forming characters- but make sure you don't directly copy a character! Be careful when using celebrities for inspiration- that could easily turn into fan fiction- and there is a very fine line between your own story and a story completely based on the true life of your favourite member of one direction! Characters from books have also inspired me to create my own characters, but again, don't copy.
I hope this post has helped, and hopefully, inspired you when creating your own characters! If there is anything you think I haven't included, comment below with your suggestions! Remember- one person doesn't know everything, but everybody knows something (that's how the saying goes- right?)
Until next time :)