“Stories are more than accounts of events occurring, and they’re more than character studies. Rather, in narrative, we find characters being revealed and transformed as they face struggles that, while defining them, refine them.” —Steven James, Creating Characters
“Developing a character with genuine depth requires a focus on not just desire but how the character deals with frustration of her desires, as well as her vulnerabilities, her secrets, and especially her contradictions. This development needs to be forged in scenes, the better to employ your intuition rather than your intellect.” —David Corbett, The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV
“To have a great story and engaging characters, you would need to get under all that hair and makeup to find the not-so-beautiful person beneath who has needs and fears, and believes lies.” —CS Lakin, Ordinary Characters Can Be Extraordinary
Building good characters seems impossible. Rather, building unique characters seems impossible with how many amazing books are readily available for readers at just the touch of a fingertip. For some writers this is a paralyzing thought, one that dries up inspiration and breeds a cesspool of writer's block.
Can I offer a thawing thought?
You are unique. In all of the world, you are the only you. You are totally original. Therefore, could it not be argued, that if you are uniquely you, your characters are by extension unique? As a human being on planet earth, you've been hurt, encouraged, berated, victorious, cheated, and loved in your personal experiences and this is something that you can bring to the lives of your characters.
Sometimes, it just takes going on a date your characters to really get to know them.
Taking time (an hour, a day, three weeks) with a character and really diving into their minds, past, present, and future create in your story a world of depth. In all the years I've been writing I've gone to several classes and conferences, read numerous books and blogs, watched youtube videos and seminars on how to make good characters and what I have provided below has brought the most help to my character development.
Two years ago I was working with a protagonist character and I hated her. No matter what I did, she was annoying. How could the readers like her if I didn't? I stopped working on my book and for three weeks I delved into this character using the process below and she's now one of the best characters I've ever penned.
Let's Start With a Name...
Helpful Hints from Creating Characters:
1. Take into consideration family background, age, personal relationships, personality.
2. “Choose a name based on what stereotypes you want your audience to automatically assume about your characters, or stereotypes you want your character to play against expectations.” —Nancy Kress, Creating Characters
Take time with a notebook or a Word Document and answer the following questions:
1. What is the need?
2. Why the need?
3. Who else knows about this need?
4. What is the nature of this need?
5. To what rules does he hold himself to meet his need?
6. What rules are imposed on him from the outside?
7. What is the characters work?
8. What is his play?
9. How and why did he acquire his job?
10. How and why did he choose his play?
11. How does his work affect his compelling need?
12. How does his play affect his compelling need?
1. What event changed the characters life and why?
2. Character’s best moment and why?
3. Character’s worst moment and why?
4. Who mattered to the character the most and why?
5. Character’s greatest humiliation how it happened and why?
1. What are the character’s current goals, and why?
2. Worst thing currently happening to him, and why?
3. What is the best thing currently happening to him, and why?
4. Most important person recently met, and why?
5. Most important current belief or realization, and why?
6. Greatest current loss of belief or certainty, and why?
1. Does he view the future as positive or negative, and why?
2. How does he want to affect his own future, and why?
3. Does he imagine a role in a bigger future, and if so, what?
4. How does he think the future will affect him, and why?
5. Who does he imagine in his future, and in what role?
6. What does he see as the worst threat to his future, and why?
7. Whom does he love, and why?
8. Is this love secret, or known to his love, or others?
9. Whom does he hate, and why?
10. Is this hate secret, or known to his enemy, or others?
11. Whom does he like, and why?
12. What values do they share, and what values conflict?
What did you think? Was this process helpful? Did it bring more depth to your character?