Awesome Guest Post by Jessica from TALES OF WONDERLAND
Characterization – the task of building characters for your story – is far from easy. Because it’s way more than that. It’s the art of transforming facts and a name on paper, into a lovable, loathsome, underestimated, admirable or unique person.
When you read a book, and you think about how you wished you were more like this character. When you just can’t wait to get on the phone and discuss with your girlfriends what this character did on the last episode. Or when you think about the psychology behind what a character did in the movie you’re watching.
In all those scenarios, the characters become real life people.
That’s what characterization is all about. And that’s what any writer wants.
So here are 4 steps to create great characters; along with some warnings and tips and tricks to make them the best possible. Enjoy!
The wedding of Plot and Characters. You’re invited.
In my opinion, a story is two things: a plot and characters.
One can grow more significant compared to the other; that’s how you get a character-driven story or a plot-driven one. But both are important, and you can’t have one without the other.
If your plot is filled with holes and boring as hell, even the most complex kick-ass hero won’t make your reader stay. But on the other hand, if no one gives a damn about your characters, they could murder-suicide each other to extinction and we wouldn’t stop our morning coffee.
Complex characters means a more complex and intricate plot. And such an interesting plot will reveal the complexity and uniqueness of your characters.
Plot and characters go hand in hand, as such they must be created together. You can’t create your main protagonist, keep him/her at the back of your mind and then put him/her in an independently created storyline. It just won’t work.
In the best stories, the plot with its twists and turns, reveals stuff about the characters. It brings light on their back stories, it creates crisis and enemies. And interesting characters will have unique ways to react to plot actions, moving the plot in unexpected directions.
So when you create your characters for your story, you have to keep in mind what you think will happen to them. You have to build their personalities at the same pace as you edify the storyline.
It can get tricky at times, so the best advice is to keep an open-mind during your novel writing. It’s the best stress reliever for a numerous of reasons but in this case, your characters will “shape” themselves as you write the story. Their personality will slightly change to fit better to the plot, or more back story will appear out of nowhere. And bonus point, the plot will sometimes alter to create more conflict with a special character’s trait.
In conclusion, your subconscious knows what’s good for you.
Make them real/characteristics of great characters
Real characters need both strengths and weaknesses, skills and flaws. They can be predictable and morally consistent and yet still surprise you.
The more complex your character is, the wider your choice of reaction to any problem/action will be. It will allow you to create subplots, other character’s arcs, more complicated relationships… overall a more interesting storyline. Let’s take a look at some great characteristics for compelling characters...
Don’t forget to give them back stories!
In the world you created, your characters had full lives before the event that initiated your story. You won’t necessarily use this right away, or ever, but it’s vital for you. Knowing where your character comes from, is essential to predict how he would react throughout the story. His past is the sum of experiences, learned lessons, battles and so it conditions his behavior and general personality. You can’t expect your reader to understand your character, if you don’t yourself.
A driving need or a goal
Everyone of us wants things in life. That’s true for your characters as well. Whether it’s a professional goal, being a better person, exacting revenge, finding happiness, searching for a significant other,… you name it. But the fundamental truth is that, your characters will be part of your plot, take action in your story because they are after these things. Otherwise they would just be bystanders. And conflict, which is the motor of your story, is created when two characters needs/goals collide.
So carefully think about your characters needs, what drives them, what they want; and the stronger they want it, the more tension and drama you’re going to get.
A character secrets can be an incident from his past, a trauma or a special behavior trait (psychological disposition to violence, sexual desires, addiction…) they keep hidden. And if revealed, it would change the character’s relationships to others as well as himself.
Those things we keep inside affect our behavior, change what we want in life, influence the way we see ourselves, what we are afraid of; they are a key part of ourselves. So to understand better your character, you are your best guide.
Nobody is just shy, angry, vain; they are shy but sometimes fierce, angry but funny, vain but generous at times. These contradictions are what makes characters interesting, deep and over all more believable. They make the person unpredictable, especially during times of stress or conflict, which allows you to write surprising moments that keep the readers entertained and curious.
There are things that draw us uncontrollably to some characters. Secrets do out of curiosity, but seeing a character vulnerable is even stronger than that. Even if we are repelled or angry, to see another person in need of help often triggers something in us and starts a connection with the reader.
That’s especially right with villains or bad guys. We may be repulsed by their actions or their behaviors but if in one scene they appear vulnerable, less “evil” and more “human”; we’ll feel compassion, even sorrow.
Don’t forget to give your characters a story arc.
Every character you create is here to help the story take place and, as everyone in real life, they are expected to grow, evolve through the course of time. You need to think about how your character is going to change, what triggers it and how it will impact the story as well as the other characters.
The plot introduces obstacles, dilemmas to your characters and as they struggle to overcome them, they change and evolve. The character’s arc is this journey from before the story to his “new” self at the end.
Strong characterization – or the art to play god – is based on knowledge. So the best way to form believable characters is to know them inside and out, so that when you’ll write their reactions, they are actually plausible. You must understand everything about them, every little detail as if they were yourself.
It requires a lot of work, and I find the most efficient way to do it is by using a character chart.
A character chart is a list of personality traits, behavior details, past experiences, etc. It’s organized in sections and as lengthy and complex as you so desire. The chart permits you to keep track of all your character’s details in a nice form, organize your ideas, as well as help you find new ones to fill in the blanks.
There is an endless list of charts on the Internet (pinterest being your best friend) to choose from. I prefer the longest ones, with the most extensive list of traits because it makes sure that you thought of everything and you only have to fill in as much as you want.
Advice: You can also adapt your character chart to the genre in which you’re writing. Like creating additional sections for fantasy writers with informations regarding magical abilities, power, etc…
Download a free form to use: CHARACTER CHART
It can also happens that you define your character by, or simply make them face, a traumatic event. The importance you give to this experience depends but most of the time, the entire character’s behavior evolves around this. You can relate to it on a particular level, that’s when being schizophrenic becomes the balm.
But if you have no clue whatsoever about what it feels like to experience this trauma; you need to learn.
And in order to do that, you need to understand human psychology. You need to research the trauma, what it does, you need to find testimonies… overall really work on this. You need to know what they are feeling, what they are thinking, why they are doing what they are doing.
Let them be free
Once you really studied every aspect of your character, you get lost in them and start living your story as if it was happening to you. That is the most magical moment, and what you will look forward too every time you start writing. And the more it feels real to you, the more your reader will feel it too.
You don’t just invent a name on paper. You character is not just a description of his face. In your story, he is a person. With hopes, a past, fears, dreams, a family, close friends and enemies, ambition, flaws…
Once you know your characters from within, once you become them; you just have to let go and let them be free. Don’t worry you already know what they are going to do next, they are a part of you now.
Some great posts about creating characters:
A great post about characterization, especially about “methods for deepening characterizations”
Why you should make your character vulnerable and how to do it.
Are your characters more important than your plot?
Some lists of character charts:
If you are in need of inspiration while building your characters, you can check out this list of character traits. That way, you can pick and mix some attributes that you want your character to have and create unique and interesting combinations: http://www.fiction-writers-mentor.com/list-of-character-traits.html
Or you can check out this site to inspire you. I am not too sure about how to describe it, I haven’t yet figured it out. But it has helped me a lot when I was stuck on a blank sheet, so give it a try.
For the character chart, please visit the Tales of Wonderland blog and scroll to the bottom of the page: http://www.talesofwonderland.com/ultimate-guide-to-creating-characters/