In this video Tahlia and Rose share the important things you need to know about creating characters that readers can identify with and care about.
And at the end, Tahlia shares the three most common faults you need to avoid when writing characters.
Video Notes on How to Write Great Characters
- Good characters make a huge difference to the success of a book; what’s the most important thing authors need to remember when creating characters for their novel?
Perfect characters are boring. To be realistic and relatable, they must have faults – weaknesses as well as strengths, or at least personal challenges. Without this, they come across as two dimensional, not fully developed as human beings.
To be a three-dimensional character, they have to be fully fleshed out in the author’s mind.
- How can you come up with ideas for realistic characters?
Images or real people are a good basis for fictional characters. Imagine what their background is, where they live etc.
- What not to do when creating characters?
Don’t make your central character unpleasant, whiny, abusive, consistently stupid or shallow, and don’t have them act out of character. I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews where readers complain that the protagonist isn’t someone they want to hang out with. Readers also pick up inconsistencies like where someone supposedly intelligent does something really stupid.
Of course, your bad guys can be horrible, in fact they should be, but your book will be most successful if your central characters are likeable.
Readers have to care about characters or they just won’t bother to keep reading. So ask yourself, Why should my readers care about my protagonist?
- How can you go about creating a character for a novel?
Two ways – uncover them or build them.
- What do you mean by ‘uncover’ them?
This is a way of working creatively where you have a sense that the story and the characters already exist in a complete form somewhere, and all you’re doing is uncovering it. Steven King likens it to an archeological dig.
In this way of working, you delve deeply into that space in your mind where the characters and their story reside. First you look at the characters from outside and write down their physical description, and you watch them acting in the story. Are they brave? Shy? Extraverted? Note what you see from observing them in your mind’s eye. Then immerse yourself in that character so that you feel you are them, and you get to know them from the inside out. While in that creative state, you can ask the character all about themselves – family background, strengths, weakness, quirks, likes, dislikes, and simple things like what they do for a living and where they live. And you ask them how they feel about all these things. Note it down so that when you come to edit, you can check that you’ve written about them consistently – not brown hair in one scene and blonde in another for instance.
- How do you build a character then?
Uncovering is working from inside the character, building is working from the outside of the story and character. The simple way to build a character is to get a character description form and fill it in. There’s a simple one on our website in the blog post of the same name as this video, and also a link there to a very comprehensive one. By the time you’ve filled in a comprehensive one, you’ll know your character well.
- What kinds of things are on a character description form? What do you need to know about the characters about which you are writing?
hair, eye colour, height, weight, build etc.)
MARITAL STATUS: :
alive or dead?)
(names, ages, marital status etc.)
(happy, sad, traumatic etc.)
(past and present)
ANY OTHER RELEVANT INFORMATION:
7. What’s the best way to create characters, uncovering or building?
Authors have to choose what works best for them. I favour a combined approach. Start by uncovering, and then refine what you discover that way by using a form to fill in any gaps. Or you might be able to uncover your main characters but have to build secondary characters.
8. So the central character – protagonist – should be likeable; what kinds of characters do readers like to read about?
Characters who are
- Are decent or trying to be;
- Can be lighthearted, but not flippant;
- Care about people other than themselves – or grow into that;
- Have endearing characteristics—like unique clothing choices;
- Have the kinds of challenges readers are familiar with, such as lack of self-confidence or other personal issues like having trouble trusting people, family troubles, trouble with relationships, struggles with school, work, earning money, and so on;
- Are honest about their issues and are working on them;
- Grow as the story progresses;
- Are courageous and will fight for what they believe is right.
10. What are the 3 most common faults authors need to avoid when writing characters?
- Don’t tell the reader everything you know about a character. You, as the author, need to know everything about them, but the reader only needs to know what’s relevant to the story. That they had a childhood pet, for instance, is not relevant unless that animal, or a related animal, is important for their story as an adult. It has to relate to something in the present or it’s just unnecessary information.
- Don’t tell the reader about the character but show them in action so the reader can see by what they do, how they act, what they say, what kind of person they are. Rather than you telling them they are this way or that way. So instead of saying ‘Joan was angry at the world’, show her exhibiting that kind of behaviour in a scene.
- Don’t dump a load of information on the reader when you introduce a character. A lot of beginner authors introduce a character and give their whole backstory all at once. It’s like they’re ticking off the points from a character description form.
For more information on this topic see https://www.tahlianewland.com/writing-characters-readers-care-about/ and get a comprehensive character description chart here: http://www.epiguide.com/ep101/writing/charchart.html