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In any good story – short, novel, poem or anything – an essential part is the characters. They make stories. So – obviously, because the world likes to be irritatingly pedantic like that – they are sometimes the hardest part of the story.
The thing about characters is that you grow to love them – or you can put too much of yourself in them; or maybe someone you know – maybe even another character you’ve read about. The problem with loving them too much is that you want them to be happy – you might make them unrealistically beautiful or have amazing super-powers. Unbelievable and, ultimately, a bad character. You see where I’m going with this. And writing a character that’s pretty much you, with upgrades?
No. Don’t do it. Never. It’s not okay.
Basing characters on people is okay – it helps create realism. But having characters that are pretty much complete copies? One: copyright. Two: lack of creativity. You’re better than that. If you want to do something along those lines, stick to fanfiction. (good website for that is fanfiction.net)
All this leads down to one keyword: Realistic. Make note of that; we’ll be using it later.
Onto my next point; give your character a bit of life! Too often, characters turn out 2D and flat – like weird paper dolls given lines. A character needs to be thought of like a person. Hopes, dreams, motives, fears. Having a personality is no good unless you know your character inside out. Right now, you might not understand, but while you’re writing you will. And remember: people grow; they age, mature and change. Situations can cause them to grow tougher or weaker.
This all checks under another keyword: Reasons/Motives.
An example of how me ignoring this step came to bite me in the ass: my leading character was really nice, kind, and shy. Then (later in the story) she was in an argument with a friend and I had this great line for her . . . But I figured (because of her personality type) she wouldn’t have said anything and I left it. Which then caused the whole story to crumple because she was just too weak for the world I’d created. It imploded. Quickly. However, the character would’ve said something – the niceness she showed was the only way she could deal with her family (at home, she had the role of peace-maker) and the shyness was towards people she didn’t know. At this point in the story, she’d realised the only way to get through to this friend was through having a backbone; she would’ve said something. Do you see what I mean? There’s a reason behind character’s behaviour and the things they do. You need to know your character.
Finally, before we actually start the process: Relatable or Interesting.
Think about what you read and why you read it. For example: a lot of teens read teen/YA fiction. Why? Because they can relate to the characters.
Twilight is so popular because it’s relatable.
When I first read that, I admit I was confused. The first thought that went through my head was “Remember the time I had sex with a disco ball and my baby ate it’s way out of me? Good times!” But then I realised; I was being to literal. Think about Bella Swan and do a quick comparison.
Feeling plain or not good enough – very common in teen girls.
Being the new kid – very common with everyone.
Family issues – I don’t even need to say anything about that.
And there are many other examples. Relatable characters make for sympathetic/interested readers. Or – if your character isn’t relatable – make them interesting. For example, in The Thirteenth Tale the twins aren’t relatable to me (they’re crazy, which speaks for itself) however they are interesting. So I kept reading and enjoyed the book.
Aha, now we’re finally past those nice long paragraphs let’s get to the fun bit!
Step 1: Fill in this Bio sheet with all the basic details (I will create a downloadable template for you later of everything on the steps)
Name: meaning: Gender:
Nickname/Alias: given by: because:
Age: Birth Date: Place of Birth:
Height: Weight: Body Type: Tattoos: symbolism/meaning: Piercings: Scars: gained by: Any Distinguishing Features:
Eye Colour: Hair Colour: Hair Type/Style/Length:
[Optional attach a drawing]
Right, now we have a very basic shell of our character; these are facts that need to be ironed out now. Too often when writing, you will accidentally change something small about your character – even if it’s as insignificant as their highlight’s colour.
Step 2: Fill in this quickly:
Is the character _____
- Neutral – Moral Grey Area/They don’t care/Unwilling to be involved/Does what they want/They’re undecided
- Good – Personal vendetta/Wants to help for personal gain/Wants to help others/Duty-bound/Revenge/Atonement
- Evil – Personal gain/They’re forced/They’re evil or bad/Misinformed of the situation/Personal vendetta
Do we like the character?
Will they switch sides?
Right, now we have a bit of a clearer image of the character. Next thing is to fill in our basic outline a little more.
Step 3: Personality is everything. Your character is . . . Well, a person. The way they behave and what they’re like shapes the whole story. Their behaviour needs to be consistent (unless it’s purposely otherwise) and believable. Consider watching the way other people behave and interact for inspiration. Just don’t stalk anyone or look too creepy, okay?
Personality In Three Words: Five traits: Flaws: Good Qualities: Something That Represents Them: Favourite Food: Favourite Place: Favourite Song: Favourite Colour: Favourite Memory: Likes: Dislikes: Habits: Hobbies: Peaceful or Aggressive:
Step 4: Every character has a reason for behaving a certain way. Whether they’re rebelling against their mother, been kept a will-less slave by a mind-controlling vampire or are just completely off their head high because of those damn pot-smoking hippies. Those hippies are everywhere. (A joke from my first chapter, sorry; I have this weird thing about pot-smoking hippies. It’s a faze. I’ll grow out of it.) Anyways, back to business – you need to understand your character. Which means giving them a past.
Good or Bad Life: why: Good or Bad Childhood: why: Most Traumatic Memory: Happiest Memory: Most Influential Memory: How Their Past Affects Them:
Parent’s Names: Deceased or Alive: how: Feelings Towards Parents: Relationship With Parents: why: How Are They Affected By Their Parents:
Home Life In A Sentence: Role At Home: Siblings: Relationship With Siblings: Where They Live: thoughts on home: Notes (eg: moved house 6 times, had a chicken named Ruby)
Family Relationship Positive or Negative: why: Closest Family Member: Least Preferred Family Member: why: Most Influential Family Member: why: Notes: (eg family curse, treasure, secret chicken ranch . . .)
Other Important Relationships: why: How did this/these relationships affect the character:
Step 5: Take your character out for a test-spin!
Right, this is the bit I find pretty fun – writing as your character without having to actually write - well write to a storyline. Basically interview your character. Seriously. Ask whatever questions you want; get a feel for their personality and tie up any loose knots.
Step 6: Miscellaneous Facts
Languages Spoken: Nationality: Preferred Style Of Clothing: Frequently Worn Item: Natural Talents: Acquired Skills: Fighting Skill: Strengths: Weaknesses: Best Friend: Three Secrets About Them: Anything They Don’t Know About Themselves:
Step 7: Use and abuse them . . . Kinda. Now, get a better grip of your character and their reactions; here is where you write some scenes about your character.
Describe the first sight of them from a girl’s point of view, then a boy’s.
Describe seeing them from an enemy’s point of view, then a friend’s.
Write a normal breakfast scene with their family.
Write a scene between the character and their best friend, then with their arch nemisis.
Any other scenarios you can think of, feel free to write about them too – it’s about putting your character through opposite scenarios to cover how they react.
Hope this guide helps you, like it helps me!