For the past couple of days, I’ve been working on a story I hope to write in full one day. Specifically, I’ve been working on the characters.
The characters are the most important thing in a fictional story. Without them, even the greatest plot in the world would seem lacklustre. Without characters to react to the events, the events themselves serve little purpose and have little impact on the reader.
What makes a good character, though? I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ll give a couple of pointers I view as important.
- The characters must be outspoken
It’s perfectly alright to have a quiet and subdued character in your story, but at least eighty percent of them need to be straightforward and voice their opinions when a situation arises. If you don’t show their personalities and viewpoints from an early stage, it won’t be believable when they speak up later on. Without precedent, their sudden outspokenness will seem exceedingly odd.
One character that can get away with being more introverted is your main character. The reader can follow his thoughts and emotions as well as his actions, resulting in a more complete character map. Because the reader can see what goes on inside the main character’s head, that character doesn’t have to speak as much as the others. It’s largely for this reason many side-character seem more interesting than the main character (Jack and Karen in Will & Grace, every single person except for Bella in Twilight – not saying the other characters are interesting, mind you).
- There must be more than meets the eye
When meeting people for the first time, you don’t introduce yourself by telling your entire life story. Your characters shouldn’t, either. If something is important to be known, it’ll find its way into the story. If there’s something about a character you really want to point out, do so at an appropriate moment in the story.
Be prepared to have lots of information about characters you’ll never be able to interweave with the plot. There’s nothing at all bad about this, as a heightened sense of familiarity with the characters you write about will certainly make a difference. The more you know about your characters, the better their personalities will come across on the page. For example, if you know a character has been stalked at some point in their lives, this will absolutely change the way they act and approach other people. Even if it never becomes clear in the finished story, this knowledge about the character’s past and motivations will be an incredible asset.
- Don’t rush it
If you want to create a fully rounded character, take your time. I usually take a lot of time writing a single story, mostly because I’m a great procrastinator. However, this gives characters the opportunity to show themselves to me. There’s one character I’ve known since I was about fourteen, but only two years ago did I discover she’s a lesbian. She’s always been a lesbian, and knowing this has made a lot of things make sense, but I never realised until recently. If I hadn’t waited so long before writing the story (in fact, it’s a story I’m not actively working on now), I might not have known before finishing the story. Again, this knowledge explains a lot about her motivations, past and emotional life.
If you take the time to get to know your characters, they’ll eventually show themselves to you.
- Draw your characters
What I’ve been doing today is drawing a character. She’s the love interest in my story, but with a double life. The main character falls in love with her instantly, making it all the more important to know exactly what she looks like. Yesterday, she was blonde and had freckles. Today, she’s olive-skinned, has dark brown hair and hazel eyes. This second look fits her character much, much better than any of the previous versions did. Again, the clue seems to be just to wait. Her current look makes sense, and she’s much better for it.
Of course, these are just methods that work for me. I’m not saying they’ll work for everyone, or this is the best way to work. This is how I do it, and remember, my mind is twisted.
In the end, it’s all about what works for you. It’s your story, which should be written your way. This is my way, nothing more (but definitely nothing less).