In the past, I've had some difficulty trying to create my characters, especially my secondary characters. Not their names, or how or where I wanted them to fit into the story, but the specifics of their life, the little details of their personality, the little quirks and nuances that make them real. It would take me a while, but I'd eventually get them, after I'd written many drafts of the story. The process worked, but I was looking for something to make the process a little easier and faster.
A few years ago, at a SCBWI writer's conference, I attended a workshop on "Creating Characters". Among other things, the leader handed out a list of questions, which are listed directly below, meant to help someone better learn about the characters they are creating.
Your character just walked in the door. Is it a man, boy, girl, woman?
What's he or she look like?
What he or she wearing?
Okay, now give your character a name?
What does he or she like to do? What are his or her passions?
Where is your character? Describe the setting you are seeing?
Someone is very important to your character. Who is it?
He or she has something that is very precious to him or her. What is it?
What is your character smelling?
There is music playing. What kind?
Think of texture of what your character is currently aware. What is it and what does it feel like?
What delights him or her?
He or she has a secret. What is it?
What makes him or her angry?
What does your character fear most?
What does he or she want more than anything else?
I'm not like some who have a clear vision of their story and characters right from the start, so, if you're like me, you might find answering the questions requires a lot of work and a lot of thought. If that's the case, stick with it, because I'm pretty sure you'll be happy with the results. You might find that by following the process, you have saved time and effort, while at the same time having a richer, deeper story right from the opening page.
If you want to use these questions as an exercise, or you are still having trouble creating a character, try printing out a picture from the internet (a random picture will suffice and will probably work better). Hang the picture above your workstation and use it as a guide, as a starting point for your character (or characters). Use the questions above to fill in the blanks about the stranger. Before you know it, you'll not only have created a character, but a story to go along with him or her... And if you're lucky, that story might be the new novel that becomes published.