I believe there is one truth in creative writing that stands above all others: characters will make or break your story.
You can have the best plot, the most ingenious twists, but without characters that people can relate to it means nothing. I know a lot of writers, especially if you’re new, have the problem of making cookie cutter characters with which no one can relate. Today I’m going to try to help you brainstorm new ways of coming up with a character so real that you’ll wonder why they haven’t come to visit you lately.
Where do your characters come from?
This is a question that is usually uttered to most writers immediately after they’re asked where their ideas come from. Well, I’m going to tell you the secret…
We just make shit up. That’s right! Nothing profound. We just make them up. Sure, we draw on sources to develop said character but at the end of the day, this is some shard of your maniacal little writer brain.
Do you draw on real life?
I sure do. The world is full of people and I’m trying to create a believable person. Why would I not assimilate some traits of those who surround me every day? I pull an idiosyncrasy here, a nervous twitch there, a gung-ho attitude from that person, and a beautiful outlook on the world from another and I’m half-way there.
Do you create character profiles?
Not until I know the character. I feel that a lot of new writers get wrapped up in physical details or past history of their character instead of developing the character’s personality. I do this by talking to my character. Yup, I talk to my made up people. I’m also on meds, so results may vary for you.
Bottom line is that if you want to write a character that sells, they must have some things that make them relatable.
Here are some suggestions that helped me move from Captain Perfect ShinyPants to someone like Jim in my story The Mourning Man.
- They must have flaws. Perfection isn’t a real thing. No one is perfect. Reading about someone who is perfect, who always has the answer, who always saves the day is unrealistic, patronizing, and just plain boring. Make your character have several flaws. Maybe they’re an egotistical drunk who secretly harbors anxiety and depression issues because they’re scared to be alone and they’ve made screwing people over a habit. I’m interested in that character and what happens to them, aren’t you?
- You must remember that all of your characters are little shards of you. What makes you interesting? What are your passions? Infuse a bit more of you than you’re normally comfortable with into your character. Get out of your comfort zone and watch this made up person come to life.
- When they say write what you know, this is what they mean: you have life experiences that can help you develop great characters. I get that you’ve never been to Mars or you’ve never ridden a dragon. Try this exercise: close your eyes and imagine you’re on Mars or riding that dragon. Now, write what you imagine it would feel like to experience this through your perspective. Ta-da! You’re writing what you know and you’re developing your character all at the same time.
- Remember, evolution is a normal thing. Is your character now acting like someone completely different from what you intended? Don’t get frustrated and try to shoehorn them back into your little box. Your character is assuming a life of their own. You are subconsciously bringing your character to life, infusing them with their own personality, and beginning down a road that will be very exciting if you only get out of your own way.
Those are just a few tips and there is a ton of advice on creating characters out there, so do some research. You could start by checking out this post from Charlie Jean Anders and give this post a look as well. Tons and tons of good ideas await you out there.
The method above has always helped me. I would like you to do something for me, though. Try the above method and post the results below. Let’s see if it helps you.
Write on and fly safe out there.
Also published on Medium.