|Photo credit: This Year's Love on Flickr|
For me, the process of getting to know my characters happens over time. It starts with their conception: usually while brainstorming for main and major characters, or occasionally spontaneous existence for minor characters. Usually at this stage I know only the basics about the characters: generally personality traits or circumstances that are a significant part of who they are and sometimes a few physical characteristics. For those spontaneous minor character cases, at this stage I usually know even less about them.
From there I try to think less about general characteristics (i.e.: hair color) and more about what it is that makes them unique. I look for personality quirks, unusual physical markers and flaws. I want to know their secrets—things that I might not necessarily reveal to the readers, but will help me understand them better. Memories, fears, dreams, weaknesses—I want to know it all, regardless of whether or not I plan to actually use the information explicitly in my WIP.
This is where character profiles can become extraordinarily useful. While I admit I don't use them as often as I could (and probably should), profiles and character sheets are a great way to keep track of and organize information about your characters—from the basics to the nuances of their personalities and backgrounds. For a particularly thorough character worksheet, check out this post from Martina Boone.
With or without a character profile, after the building blocks of the character are completed, I tend to find that much of the rest is discovered while writing the story. Everything from unexpected quirks and fears, unplanned tendencies and mannerisms and favorite words often reveal themselves as the characters progress through the story. Pre-planned aspects of my characters sometimes disappear, while new ones develop. This process continues well beyond the final draft—characters often continue to surprise me during second and third drafts and even later revisions.
So while that's the gist of my character development process, I'd like to hear from you: how do you get to know your characters? Do you use worksheets or is your process more organic? I'd love to hear your experience.