A character is more than just a person with a story to tell. Your character is a tool you use to tell the story. But to make them real isn't as easy at it sounds. Like people, characters need to have many layers. They are complex. If you fail to make them so, then you end up with a flat, cardboard cutout character.
Your reader is going to be spending a lot of time with your character, therefore it is essential to make them likable or, at least, relatable. You want your reader to empathise with your character and enjoy the journey you take them on.
A character driven story is a story that develops from the character's goals, motivations, and actions.
Every character must have:
- A goal: what does your character want? This is essentially what the book is about.
- Motivation: why do they want this goal and what will they do to achieve it? These are the action sequences in your story.
- Conflict: what is stopping them from reaching this goal? This is the tension and the obstacles your character faces.
Characters must also have:
- A backstory: they did not just appear on page one. They have lived a life before this story started. What happened in their past before this story takes place? What has shaped their lives? What has led your character to this moment?
Characters are not perfect. Make sure you give your character:
- A flaw: this plays into their relationships with others and maybe even their goals
- A fear: this creates doubt and insecurities.
This is delving deep into psychology. The Big 5 Personality Traits are:
Deciding where your character fits on the scale of these five traits can help you keep them consistent as human beings and make them seem more real. Remember, this is a SCALE so a character doesn't need to be one or the other, but can lean to one end of the scale more than the other. They may act on either end of the scale in different situations too.
Extroversion - Outgoing or Reserved?
More outgoing characters enjoy being the centre of attention, like to start conversations, make friends easily, and like people.
More reserved characters prefer solitude, find socialising exhausting, think carefully before they speak, and don't like small talk.
Agreeableness - Friendly or Cold?
Friendlier characters take an interest in other people, care about others, feel empathy, and enjoys helping other people.
Colder characters take little interest in others, express less empathy, and may even insult or belittle others.
Conscientiousness - Organised or Careless?
More organised characters prepare, finish important tasks right away, pays attention to details, and enjoys schedules.
Less organised characters dislike structure, make messes, don't take care of things, fails to return items, and procrastinates.
Neuroticism - Sensitive or Secure?
Emotionally sensitive characters may experience a lot of stress, get upset easily, feel anxious, and worry about many things.
Emotionally secure characters are more stable, relaxed, don't worry much, rarely feel sad or depressed, and deal well with stress.
Openness - Curious or Cautious?
Curious characters are creative, try new things, take on new challenges, and are happy to think about abstract concepts.
Cautious characters dislike change, don't enjoy new things, resist new ideas, and are not very imaginative.
Other things to think about when you are creating your character may include the finer details such as:
- Relationship status/history
- Relationship with others
You may choose to or not choose to describe your character. In romance, a character description is more important because, let's face it, looks create physical attraction. In other genres, you may choose not to describe your character as much.
- Hair colour/cut/looks - how do they often wear their hair?
- Eye colour and shape
- Body type
- How the character carries themselves and acts
- What do they wear? How do they dress? What is their personal style?
Last of all, create yourself a profile for your character building. Having this as a tool when creating all characters will help you to remember every little detail.
Build a character profile that works for YOU. Some people, like myself, like to fill in a table that addresses every little detail. Other authors find pictures to represent their characters which help them remember hair and eye colour.
Have a play and create yourself a character profile that you can use time and time again.
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