Start with 2D characters, stock, like you would find in a sitcom to make sure all the characters in your novel are different. The Nerd. The Funny One. The Adventurer. The Sage. Then layer in unique characteristics.
A successfully created character is one you could put in any situation and your reader would know how they would react because of their defining and unique characteristics.
Remember: first impressions count e.g. a rebellious character might be introduced in her fourth detention of the week.
Character interactions – not just what your character thinks of themselves, but what they think of other people and what other people think of them. How does the character act or speak differently depending on who they’re interacting with?
TASK: What fascinates you about people – people you know, people you see on television, people you meet out-and-about? Can you take these unique characteristics and seed them into your characters?
Readers relate to a character when the below are realistic and recognisable.
Motivation: Character needs credible motivations to give their feelings depth. Need to be more than just an ‘angry’ character; a character who’s lost a parent unfairly early in life, or a character who’s being bullied by their classmates. Motivation is why your character has that goal. Motivations and goals also change with the plot.
TIP: It’s not just your protagonist who needs motivations. For a relatable antagonist, give them a reason for being the bad guy. They could even have the same GOAL as the protagonist, but different motivations, or the same MOTIVATIONS, but different goal. E.g. MOTIVATION: protagonist and antagonist both want to make money to surprise their brother with a gift on his birthday. GOAL: protagonist wants to achieve a successful bank robbery, antagonist wants to find a part-time job after school.
Goals: Big goals and small goals. Saving the world vs. Getting in their homework on time. Match these goals to your character’s situation, their personality, their wants and needs. Goal is what your character wants to achieve. Different goals create CONFLICT, which a writer needs to keep the reader engaged and the story interesting. E.g. Katniss wants to survive the Hunger Games but also to remain true to her moral centre. This makes her journey much harder (and therefore more exciting) than her just storming into the Hunger Games and killing everyone mindlessly.
Obstacles: Interior (e.g. psychological, emotional) and exterior (e.g. people or circumstance). Creates conflict that needs to be sustained throughout the book – and not just solved in a single action or conversation.
Your character needs to CHANGE. No one wants to read a book where the character is static. Let the obstacles they have to overcome shape their personality and make them into a (hopefully) better person. Changes can include – personality change, realisation about themselves/another character, a change of heart, growing up, gaining knowledge/understanding, becoming a better person.
TASK: Create a timeline of your character’s life – post-it notes can help you visual it. Then condense the timeline to around five events that have impacted your character’s life, shaped who they are as a person, and are influencing the story. You could do this for your antagonist too.
- What does you character want?
- What barriers get between them and their goals?
- What does your character stand to lose (stakes)?
- What is your character’s backstory?
- What are your character’s flaws?
- How does your character relate to the world and other people?
The Magic Formula:
[NAME OF CHARACTER] wants [GOAL] because [MOTIVATION] but [OBSTACLE]
Resource: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Next Topic: Openings and Hooks
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