Creating compelling characters is one of the most pivotal aspects of being an author, especially if your field of choice is fiction. All major events, the progression of the story-line, change in plot, are one way or another effected by the characters of your novel. Your dramatis personae bring your novel to life. They are also the main interface for readers to connect with your narrative and so, their role in the story is important. If done right, this can prove a major win as constantly asking yourself if your characters are authentic enough for your audience will improve the general outlook and flow of your book.
If you are new to writing, it may be a taxing endeavour to model your characters from scratch and make them believable. It needs patience, work and a whole world of practice. As daunting as it is though, it can be fulfilling and can be quite the adventure. I personally loved this part of writing and for some absurd reason, I particularly enjoyed creating the evil and twisted characters more! Because for me it’s such a seamless undertaking to create a flawed character (or are they?). Being evil is easy, I guess. Creating characters felt like moulding clay and puffing air into it. A creation of your own imagination. Twisted and all.
Also, this post doesn’t just apply to main characters. You will discover that it is minor and disposable characters that are best at changing or heightening plots. They use their often expendable positions to confront, comfort, question, push the limits and motivate both the villains and the heroes of our story. Strong minor characters make strong main characters. Use these same guidelines to create strong minor characters.
With that said, how then do you create characters for your novel? (This post is by no means exhaustive. Just a little something to get you started. Also, you may need a separate notebook for your characters).
Your main characters need to be opinionated. They need to doggedly hold on to their beliefs even if it costs them their lives. Doesn’t matter whether they are morally appropriate or unpleasant, they need strong opinions and stick by them especially when their character is called into question. This is even more particularly for the heroes whose naturally good nature will always be cross-examined and mistrusted (mystifying how similar this is to real life).
Of course, you could always use this as one of your dramatic plot twists, for instance, when a character needs to shed off their beliefs for a greater good (or evil).
Dissimilar school of thoughts can also be the defining pivot between hero and villain. They could agree on everything else except this one thing that they can never see eye to eye. And that one thing could trigger a book size conflict.
I’ll let you in on a tiny secret: most characters are not original per se. Most are a concoction of various other characters. Don’t be afraid to be a little pilferer when building your actors. (For the sake of my audience, we’ll call it “borrowing”). If you look at it in those terms then you can have an infinite resource when building your dramatis personae.
That queer boss who is nonchalant about personal space, your friend who’s a tad too comfortable with their naked body, a cousin that’s always up for a parteeeee, a beloved character from your favourite book or movie, that larger than life role model. The possibilities are inexhaustible. But the biggest character you can ‘steal’ from is…. yeap, yourself. You know you better. Your impure thoughts, genuine happy moments, struggles, successes. Borrow as much from yourself as possible.
Ambition and motivation
You can normally tell a lot about a person by their motives and ambitions in life. It’s no different when it comes to the dramatis personae in your novel. You can grow the believability of your characters by giving them direction or strong convictions. A purpose. And a purpose that heavily resonates with your readers.
A purpose is also great for creating conflict in your story. Imagine if your main hero is the heir of a great kingdom. His purpose, naturally, is to inherit his father’s kingdom and make it prosperous. Whatever prosperous means to him. What if, then, our villain is the heir’s younger sibling, always jealous of the firstborn. His purpose or ambition then, naturally, is to take power for himself. Can’t have two heirs now can we? Conflict.
Once your characters have a purpose, it becomes fairly easy to match it with actions and thought. Actions and thoughts develop into routines and habits. that translates into preferences, roles, and motivation. Motivation breeds purpose. And voila, you have life-like characters.