Characterization: the creation and convincing representation of fictitious characters. (dictionary.com's definition) Characterization: making the voices in my head come alive on the page. (erica's definition)
I've got a few different WIPs going on (don't we all?) and the main characters are TOTALLY different. So, how do I go from being a well-behaved-just-falling-in-love-for-the-first-time-17-year-old girl to a 12-year-old-ghost-hunting boy? Or the ghost-hunter to the baseball-player? Or the baseball-player to the teen mom?
I'm not talking voice here (well, not completely) - all the characters have different voices as does the narration in all of our books. I mean who our characters are. What they did before the book started and what they might do after it's over.
Here are some tips for creating good characters (note: these are not things that should end up in your book. they're yours to keep to yourself forever and ever. or, when you get rich and famous, you can release them as a prequel. and thank me on the acknowledgements page, of course):
Write a quick biography. What was his defining moment (for one of my characters, it was the day he dropped the baseball in a big game)? What's one thing he wished he could do over (for another, it's following the old man into the apartment building)? What's his biggest dream (getting a book published - oh, wait. . .)? Who was his first kiss/date/lover?
For adult characters, write a resume. Where did he go to high school and was he the "most studious" or "class clown" or "most likely to go to prison"? Did he go to college? Community or ivy league? What was his first job and did he like it?
Write a journal entry, or several. It could connect to one of the above events. What did your character write in her diary on the day her dad died? On the day they graduated? When she found out she was pregnant? When she lit the fireworks to announce her book deal (I'm getting off track here, but hey, maybe one of you could use that as a book idea and then I've at least accomplished something)?
Give them one trait that's different from the other characters. Maybe it's a catch phrase. Or a facial tick. The tendency to get lost a lot. Why does he do that and when did it start?
Don't forget your secondary characters. Books I've read spend a lot of time on the main character (and rightly so), but barely mention what motivates his friends and family (which I find a bit annoying). Even in first-person narration, we should have some idea. Why is your character friends with this person/set of people? What's their best characteristic? Their worst/most annoying? Why is the mean girl mean? Why did his ex dump him?
How about you? How do you come up with your characters and what do you know about them before you start writing?