It’s said that readers can love stories — but only fall in love with characters.
Many first-time authors only know their novel’s characters as well as they would know an acquaintance at a cocktail party. The characters’ traits seem more like ticks the author thought would be interesting, rather than ones that arise out of a deeply embedded worldview. These authors have not done the nuts-and-bolts work necessary to create flesh-and-blood characters.
Follow these nuts-and-bolts ABCs to create characters:
When I say “appearance,” the last thing I mean is for authors to chart a dossier of what their characters look like. I mean something much deeper.
Too often, writers come up with character descriptions that – while incredibly detailed – actually tell us nothing about the character. Instead, what we have is a “mug shot” of sorts that tells us a character’s height, age, weight, hair and eye color, etc. But we don’t get a picture of that character; we’re not shown the character in a way that the reader can truly envision.
For a wonderful example of how even a minor character can be rendered vividly, see how Rachel Joyce depicts Rex:
Rex was a short man with tidy feet at the bottom, a small head at the top, and a very round body in the middle, causing Harold to fear sometimes that if he fell there would be no stopping him. He would roll down the hill like a barrel.
Here, we picture Rex before us, and even get a strong sense of his demeanor.
While you may have an idea for a colorful character, you need to go back way before your story ever starts to discover your character’s history, or backstory. A character’s past colors everything about how he sees his present. This is the thinking behind crafting complex characters.
Where we are from and raised is probably the most important contributor to a character’s point of view. Imagine your character grew up in a home where her father was an abusive alcoholic. This history is going to color her relationships with men and especially how she will react to a man who is a heavy drinker.
You must understand where your character “is coming from.” When you do this, you will end up with a character that’s more flesh-and-blood — and interesting to your readers!
So, now you understand what goes into crafting a flesh-and-blood character. Here’s how to start creating: If you want to go even deeper with your characters — and why wouldn’t you? — it helps to ask a few questions. Imagine you were a reporter. What would you ask your character to try to get to know him better?
- Who is he?
- What is his worldview?
- How did he get to this place in your novel?
- What is his biggest dream, or goal? How does this contrast with his reality?
- What is his biggest fear?
- What are his quirks?
- What personality trait gets him into trouble?
- What is he better at than no one else?
- What past mistake does he regret?
This may all sound like tedious legwork, but mastering the ABCs of flesh-and-blood characters is a powerful way to ensure your characters Develop their journeys, Evolve internally, and Find a solution to both of their internal and external problems.