You can never know enough about your characters.
W. Somerset Maugham
Get a stack of 5 X 7 cards and put each character’s name at the top on a card. Next, think about the role each plays in your story, and what kind of person each is: age, education, place of birth, hot-headed, funny, fat, ugly. What are their quirks? Do they wash their hands 500 times a day? Do they hear voices? Are they kind to kids but love to torture cats? Do they have a favorite expression or phrase that they say over and over again? Put it down, put down so much that you finally come to know these characters intimately. Alfred Hitchcock would write down the scenes of his movies on index cards, one scene to a card. That way, as he said, by the time he was ready to shoot the film, he was already done.
Some characters will be major ones, around whom the story will pivot; others will play bit parts, but these will be critical too, as every player must have a reason for being in the story. If they don’t have a reason for being in your novel, they’ll slow down the story, and slowness bores readers.
Writing Trick: Think of your book (whether it is fiction or not) as “A novel of information.” The reader will come away from it having enjoyed a tremendous and touching story and learned something new.
Your assignment: Identify the central characters and flush them out with a few lines or paragraphs of description. Post these descriptions on the wall of your office.
Writing Log: Words Written Today_____: