A Little Sister, A Talent for Drawing

Every plot has those little details. Your main character has a gay best friend, likes to wear pink eyeshadow, works part-time at a coffee shop, and sucks at math. How do we come up with these aspects that makes a story real to the reader? Do you use truths from your own life? Do you make a list before you start writing? Do you come up with it as you go?

There are three methods I use to make a character three dimensional. (I know, writing is such a science.)

1. (Of course) I make a list.

Yes, I like my lists. I find safety in them. When I'm writing, I'm surrounded by papers and lists and timelines. Sometimes it's easy to forget certain things about our characters, and it's a good reference tool. So, for instance, if I'm creating a girl who lives in Alabama, she's going to need more to her. Okay, she's a redhead. It matches her fiery personality. She hates rap, and her little sister annoys the crap out of her. If I'm writing a scene where there's rap playing, I know she's going to make a comment or try to escape because, hey, that stuff is crap to her.

2. I wing it and let the story speak to me.

Sometimes I'm surprised when I run across something. "Oh, you're allergic to peas?" This is my favorite, really, because it makes me feel like I'm really connected to the story. Of course, there are times when those random details have no purpose to being there, but if it's part of this person you're creating, then I guess that's a purpose in itself. We all have our details.

3. I use whatever helps the plot to move along.

In my last story, it was relevant that my character had a talent for painting. It moved the plot along and it was a key point for the whole unravelling of the great mystery.

What are your methods for coming up with those little details?