It’s time for the third serial, friends! And this one is all about the most important aspect of our stories – your characters! If you’d like to catch up with any of the previous lessons, you can do so here.
Before we really get to the heart of things, I’m just giving you an overview today so you know what to expect. It should be enough info that you won’t need to read the following posts if you don’t want to, but if you’d rather have more info you’ll get it over the weeks to come 😉 And there’s a free character questionnaire at the end of this post! Read on or scroll down now to download it if you wish to (it is free…)
So, how do you make your characters stand out? Creating flat, unbelievable characters is easily done, but it can be easily avoided, too. If you want your characters to shine, they need:
fears and dreams
Both of these together form the very foundation of your characters. Everyone wants something, and everyone is scared of something, so your characters need to reflect that if you want them to be believable. Their fears will be what hold them back and either send them into paralysis or get their adrenaline pumping. Their goals are their motivation to do, well, anything!
You can be as versatile as you want. Your characters can be afraid of failure, of the dark, of their parent beating them again when they get home, or of the impossibility of certainty when you can’t even be sure of your own existence. They can dream of landing that job they’ve applied for, of having a large family, of gaining financial security, or of looking at themselves in the mirror one day without hating what they see. Either way, your characters fears and dreams will greatly inform what they do.
If your book shows them struggle with the former and aim for the latter, you’re off to a good start!
weaknesses and strengths
I know it might be tempting to create a super character with all strengths and no flaws, but that’s precisely what’s going to make your little fictional babies unbelievable. The weaknesses are just as important as the strengths, friends! Weaknesses can include anything from being bad at public speaking to a massive gambling problem. Strengths can be just as versatile, and can cover anything from always remaining positive no matter the situation to being a survivor, and anything in between.
In two weeks we’ll look a little closer at this and I’ll provide examples then, too, so be sure to look out for that! 🙂
Unlike strengths and weaknesses, personality quirks are small and more subtle, but can seriously break your readers if used well. For example, you might have a character who has to pet every stray cat she finds (who doesn’t, right?), or you might have a character who hates raw tomatoes but tolerates them on sandwiches and burgers (I’m just describing myself now…). Quirks like these really help your characters come to life, but be careful. It’s easy to give our characters oddities just for the sake of it, but you’re job isn’t done there. Make sure the quirks are relevant, maybe even related to a specific trait (a fidgety character might twirl her daggers a lot, or be jumpy), and your characters will be much stronger for it.
If you don’t know where to start, work backwards. Get to know your characters a little first, then figure out their quirks from there!
to be imperfect
No one is perfect. Not in real life, and not in fiction, either. I recently read a book I won’t name in which the MC had everything – a wonderful Mum, perfect adoptive parents later, all of the talent, fantastic group of friends, and an easy start into a new school where she was instantly accepted, even by the jocks. No weaknesses. No flaws. Just the perfect life in her perfect bubble.
Your readers will struggle to relate and care about your character. Even the hero of your story needs flaws, friends! If you’re new to all this it might seem counterproductive to give your MC negative traits, but we all have them, my dear. Your characters need to have them, too.
to have history
Your character’s life doesn’t begin with the first chapter. Our precious fictional young’uns have led interesting lives before Chapter One – The Beginning! If you don’t think so, then it’s your job to figure out what you’re missing. Something has put your characters on the paths that lead to them being introduced in your books – be that main character, all-important sidekick, or side character – and it’s important you know what happened to them. You don’t need to be as thorough as having a timeline with their educational history, dates of when they were applying for university, job hunting, to and from dates of every relationship ever held, and so on, but you do need to know enough to confidently say, “This is what my character went through. This is why he is who he is today.”
Our history and past experiences shape us, after all!
to have redeemable qualities – even the villains!
Or perhaps that should be especially the villains? I mean, your MCs shouldn’t be so despicable that your readers need help liking them!
From your villain’s POV, this redeemable quality might be their weakness. Even your villain appreciates something. Not every villain is a cold, heartless creature of darkness! Villains have motivations, too – chaos for the sake of chaos is fine every now and again, but a villain with a personal reason is all the more terrifying. Maybe he even feels that this quality is holding them back in their quest to world domination? Gotta love a good villain with strong morals…
Your characters shouldn’t be the same people at the end of your book as they were at the start. They’ve just been on some kind of journey; show us what they learned! Your character might start out shy but slowly become more outgoing as your plot progresses. One character might start out scared of everything and everyone, but learn how to stand up for himself.
This is such an important step, because you can really touch your readers with this. All of us are on our own journeys, and if you can write a character who reflects some of what we go through – and, more importantly, shows her come out stronger at the end – you’ve got a winner! This is why fears are so important. Can your character learn to conquer what terrifies him? Drop him into his worst case scenario and see how he copes – and don’t forget to include it in your book!
I know figuring all this out can be daunting, never mind difficult. Don’t panic if you don’t have all the answers when you start writing; chances are they’ll come to you as you go. Many books have been written on character creation, and you’ll find heaps upon heaps of websites aiming to help you with this. My own favourite two ways are to just start writing and let the characters introduce themselves as and when they’re ready, and my character questionnaire. I can’t help you with the former so well – trust your precious fictional babies and they will open up eventually! – but I can help you with the latter! That’s right, it’s FREEBIE TIME! I’m making my character questionnaire of 35 questions (I found some with a hundred questions or more online, but gawd, who has the time for that? I’ve got too many characters for that!) available to you, right here:
If you can ask yourself, “What would [name of your beloved character here] do?” in any situation, you’ve got it sussed out!
How do you make your characters stand out? I hope that the next few weeks answer every question you have regarding character creation. If they don’t, ask away. Or just stay and chat, if you fancy. There’s tea and cookies if you do <3
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