If you ask me, and I know you haven’t but I’m writing this blog post anyway, characters are the very centre of a story. People can forgive a weak or unoriginal story if they care about the people involved in the events. If you want readers to invest in the story you’re trying to tell, then the characters are were that happens. But what makes a good character?
Well, there are lots of things that can draw you to a character. They can be funny, have a tragic back story, or be a complete awesome badass (technical term), yet none of these things guarantee that a character will be liked, because, you know, people are different and have different tastes. What one person likes, another won’t. The only way, that I know, to really give a character a solid chance of winning over readers is to make them as realistic as possible. Now this doesn’t mean the character has to be someone you could meet walking down the street, he could be a one-eyed troll with an interest in fine art, it doesn’t matter as long as the character can believably exist in whatever setting you’re writing.
Let’s break down this whole realistic thing. People are weird, complicated and sometimes contradictory, and your characters need to be that too. They need to have layers and different shades to them. You need to think of your characters as flesh and blood people. You need to understand them down to their core, which finally brings me to the title of this post, about time I know.
We’ve all heard of actors who develop vast amounts of back story explaining their character’s actions and dialogue, even though they only say about two lines. You need to do the same when coming up with your characters. Here’s some questions you should be asking yourself when making up the cast for your stories.
Where are they going?
This is fairly obvious, what is the character’s goal? What do they desire and why do they desire it? Characters should have their own aims and reasons for seeking them, this will inform every decision they make in the story, and even set up conflict where goals are at odds. Always try to let your characters have different goals, or at least different reasons for their goals, this will help to distinguish them from one another.
Where have they come from?
This is the back story, tragic or otherwise. The past often influences the present, and even the future. What happened in the past to form the character’s current goals? Are they running away from something? Did they do something wrong that they now wish to make amends for? What was their childhood like? Did they lose someone? Who were the important people in their past?
What sort of person are they?
This is a question of their personality. Is the character a brooder? Quick to anger? Calm under pressure? Are they an extrovert? An introvert? Characters should always drive a story, rather than the plot, so you need to know how they’ll react to different situations, and the type of person they are will tell you this.
What do they believe in?
Does your character follow any sort of religion? Do they hold themselves to a specific code of honour? What set of ideals do they live their life by, if any? Why do they believe in what they do? You can also have a great deal of fun challenging these beliefs and seeing how your characters react to that as you tell your stories.
Now not everything you come up with has to go into your story, it can just be hinted at or left out entirely, you don’t have to tell your readers every single facet of the character, but it’s always good to keep it in the back of your mind as you’re writing.
I feel that if you understand your characters, then the readers will understand and relate to them. It helps the characters come to life, of course that’s when they start arguing back, but we can talk about that some other time.