I’m been making quite a few writing tips posts recently, and now I’m finally getting around to my absolute favorite part of stories, period: the characters. For me, a story can have an awesome plot and world, but if the characters are boring chances are I’m going to put the book down or switch the channel.
In storytelling, your characters are vitally important. Humans tend to unconsciously look for something to relate to, and that is usually other people. Having main characters that people can relate to instantly make your story itself relatable, and thus more entertaining and compelling.
Just for clarity’s sake, when I say main character, is MC, what I mean is the person or small group of persons whom the plot directly affects and follows. We may or may not hear from their point of view, but their actions and words nonetheless shape the course of the story. If you don’t know if a character is an MC, ask yourself this question: How much time do they spend in the spotlight? If your story were a play, would they have a soliloquy or a musical number? If yes, then they’re probably an MC. Ron and Hermione were’s perspective characters, but they’re still MCs in the Harry Potter story, because not only do they spend most of their time with the protagonist but their actions and support for Harry directly affect how the plot plays out.
Usually, a main character hits me pretty early on in the brainstorming phase. I can immediately tell a few things about the person, namely:
- A vague sense of their personality. Like if they are generally a more happy or melancholy person, a talkative spirit or a more thoughtful one.
- Something that makes them unique, personality-wise.
- If they have any special abilities or magic (since I write mostly fantasy)
- A physical trait or two
For example, when I was writing my space opera, I knew one of my MCs – Ionia – pretty early on. I knew that she would be a princess, that she would be very intelligent and introspective. I also knew that she would have galaxy colored hair. And from there, I worked on fleshing out the other things about her that might be less obvious.
So let’s get into a few broad categories for character development.
Something that’s important to consider is what external factors affect your MC’s personality. Some examples:
- social status
- Culture that they are a part of, be it earthly or fictional
- Childhood upbringing
- The people that they look up to and live with.
But just as external things affect who we are, we also have a set of internal traits we must work with. You might also want to think about:
- Willpower or how head-strong/passive they are.
- Their opinions on all the external things and the world around them.
- Dreams and desires.
- What motivates them. This is especially important because it will be the way you’ll want to drive the plot forward.
- How they communicate with people. Are they good at it? Are they awkward, or are they good with people?
- What is their brain like? What kinds of internal things do they struggle with inside their mind?
- How do they go about problem-solving? Do they work better with people, or alone?
- Their sense of humor. I don’t think a lot of writers touch on this, but I think it’s important because isn’t humor a vital part of real life? Humor will also be something that readers will attach to.
Strengths and weaknesses
Always, always, consider strengths and weakness. Write them all out if you have to. And pay careful attention to the weakness side. Or rather, watch to make sure you don’t have too many strengths and too insignificant weaknesses. Believe it or not, it’s the weaknesses that make your characters interesting. Nothing makes a good story more than one of a person who is internally inept at the thing they need to do, and then spends the book overcoming it and saving the day. Struggle is a key part of stories, and your strengths might sound really cool to you, but it’s your weaknesses that your readers will focus more on.
When I think I know a character pretty well, I finally write down a basic profile for reference. Here’s what it looks like:
Then I fill it out with bullet points. Nothing too extensive, but you can be as detailed as you want. And of course, though I highly recommend making character profiles for at least your MCs, you can go about it in whatever way works best for you.
These are things to consider when creating really any character, to an extent depending on how important they are to the plot. But the MC is usually the first person one creates in their head for a story, so it’s a good place to start.
And of course, you do not have to know all of these things at once. In fact, I would say that it is perfectly acceptable to figure out most of these things along the way, especially if you’re more of a discovery writer (one who doesn’t normally do extensive outlines). I actually love the process of getting to know my characters along the ride of the first draft. It’s different for everybody, which is awesome. 😉
Also note that physical appearance is mentioned very little here. To me, it doesn’t really matter what the characters look like. What readers will cling to is personality, because after all, they can’t physically see the character, even if they imagine them up in their own heads.
That’s about it for today, so I hope you have a lovely day and I’ll see you again soon. 🙂