Welcome back. So far we have journeyed through the joys of world-building and plotting and continued with the creation of magic systems. Today, I will discuss one of my favorite parts of writing, creating characters and character development.
Think about your favorite books. What is it that drew you to them and cemented them in your personal hall of fame? Yes, the plot and the world-building do play a role, but what is a good plot or a fantastic world without an equally intriguing character driving the story forward?
We often want our protagonists to be the strong and almost flawless characters, with maybe a subtle flaw, and our villains truly evil, but these characters are rarely realistic and are very difficult for a reader to relate to.
Both the hero and the villain are complex characters, both have strengths and flaws. The hero may be brave and tenacious, but may also be stubborn and impulsive, which could lead to some very precarious positions when decisions are made rashly.
Villains may be evil incarnate, but what if this was not always the case? What if there is a sliver of humanity that still rears its head that leaves the reader thinking; ‘maybe, just maybe they aren’t all that bad?’
Your characters’ strengths and flaws are part of what makes them interesting to the reader. If there is a very real chance that your protagonist may fail because of one or more of their flaws, they will become more realistic to the reader. Just be careful when creating these strengths and flaws, that the flaws you add to counterbalance the strengths are not inconsequential. For example; an elf that is practically unbeatable in combat, wise beyond their years and with unblemished beauty is also unable to dance. While this flaw may open up an avenue for an amusing exchange with another character, it is not a flaw that will drive the story. However if this character also froze in combat, that could lead to very real consequences.
The development of Villains is also so often forgotten and in many stories, we are left with a one-dimensional being that is just there as a counterpoint to the hero. Apply the same idea regarding strengths and flaws to your villains. If they are also ‘real’ you will create a much more immersive story for readers to sink into.
Inserting your character into your plot can be tricky, but at the same time, without your character, your plot would just be an idea on a page. Your character’s goals are why your story exists. Without a character goal, the overall narrative will crumble, their end goal is what will propel the story forward and give rise to their inner journey. In saying that, every goal has a motivation behind it. This can be both internal and external influences and does not need to be limited to one. For example; your character’s goal is to kill an evil queen to save themselves and to release a group of people from a curse. In this scenario, the goal is the same, kill the evil queen, but there are two motivations behind it. The first being to save themselves and the second to save others. One could also argue that this is both an internal and external motivator. A character may have the drive to protect those they care for and will then act, they will also have a sense of self-preservation even if they are self- sacrificing.
On that note, be aware of the internal and/or external conflicts that your character may have. These are very important in the overall character development because they act as an agent of change.
Conflict tests a character’s determination to reach a goal, add a historical anecdote that shapes future decisions. A character with a history of a strict and stoic upbringing may make them a reserved and closed off character that finds it difficult to trust other people.
Internal conflict is just that, the internal struggle a character experiences. Don’t forget that we carry around our past experiences and we use them as terms of reference when confronting new obstacles. This can greatly influence how a problem is solved. Showing how a character learns to overcome any of these conflicts and grow is an important arc in character development. Build a back story for your character to illustrate how they have become who we see on the page, but pay special attention to the moments that are important to the story at hand. While the story of the first time they lost a tooth could be cute, it may not be relevant.
External conflicts are conflicts between the character and an external cause such as an antagonist, the environment, society or a supernatural force.
Through this type of conflict, it is possible to develop your characters in a multitude of ways. Is it a trauma that takes time to heal from or that caused permanent damage that the character needs to adapt to? External conflict gives a character a physical and practical test of their abilities and it lends to the uncertainty of the ‘will they succeed or fail’ question. External conflicts are not within the character’s control, they are their own entities and are unpredictable.
Although a character may develop over the course of a novel, that does not mean that the character has to change. Decide upfront how much you want your character to change as a person if you want them to be a static or dynamic character.
Static characters are constant. Their unchanging nature can make them quite compelling and is not necessarily a hindrance to the development of the story. For example, Captain America is fundamentally the same. He may undergo many physical and internal conflicts, but the actual character stays more or less the same. That does not make the story any less interesting and nor does it make the character flat and lifeless.
Dynamic characters are those that change drastically. The conflict they face alters them in some way. For example in Clockwork Renegades, my Duology, Alex is a dynamic character. She begins as a quintessential spoilt daughter of a noble and by the end of the Duology, she has become a strong and independent rebel leader. The change can either be a conscious choice or a subconscious one.
There is one more that can be added here, a combination of a static and a dynamic character. How do you ask? Well, there are instances where a character is the cause of a major change. The external conflicts may try to shift the character from their core values, but the characters will try to alter the circumstance and defy the world’s pressures to change.
Secondary characters are also very useful in developing your main characters. They are often static characters and act as supports for the development of the main characters. You can also write them as a ‘foil’, intentionally writing them with opposite characteristics to your main character with the express purpose of highlighting particular qualities of your main character.
Research your character. Research their culture, You need to make them as realistic as possible. If they are of African descent and were brought up by their mother to respect the culture of the people they are from, research it. Talk to people who have experience. Talk to people that your character may represent. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions. There is, however, a bit of an issue with sloppily researched or unresearched information. You do not want to commit the faux pas of incorrectly representing a culture or a group of people (this an even extend into LGBTQ+, people with mental illness or those with a disability).If you are writing a novel that is fantasy based, look at your character’s, what inspired them? Are your elves based on the Native American people? Yes? Research it! Your character may not BE Native American, but you have based their culture on one that is very real, there is some room for alteration since it is a fictional race, but try to keep aspects of your character that are based on real influences, also based in fact.
We have delved deep and created the heart and soul of your character, now it is time for the flesh and blood.
How does your character look? Is there a specific characteristic that is unique only to them? Take some time to put thought into how your character will look. Let’s be real, people react differently around people because of ingrained preconceptions. The blonde is often seen as ditzy, the scrawny man with glasses; a nerd. Your character’s appearance may influence how your other characters interact and behave around them. As another example, Eragon has the silver mark on his hand identifying him as a dragon rider. That mark changes the way people interact with him and he has to take particular care hiding it to go unnoticed.
How does your character sound? Does he have a big, booming baritone that can be heard across a battlefield or a lilting song of a voice that speaks incantations like they were made for the character’s mouth?
Does your character have any distinctive tics or mannerisms?
Of course for some of these steps are all in a different order, and that’s okay. So long as you ensure that you have covered all of the steps in whichever order you are most comfortable you are good to go.
There are many websites where you can find character profile templates and character builder tools that can help make this all easier if you get stuck along the way.