Your characters are central to your story. They don’t have to be liked by all, but they need to be compelling. They need something that makes them relatable to the audience: maybe it’s what scares them the most, what is keeping them from facing the truth that most resonates with your readers. Humans aren’t perfect, and your character doesn’t have to be either. You want to write about a character that your readers are wiling to sacrifice their own time to read about and follow through the character’s journey. So how do you go about doing that?
Find your character’s motivation
To develop your characters, you need to work out what your character wants, and what they will do in order to get what they want. Examples:
To escape…from prison, from slavery, from a boring office job, from a stalker
To stop… a bomb, a killing, a treachery
To find…the Golden Ticket, the horcrux, the Holy Grail, money
To be the winner…of a duel, a competition, a contest, a race, of a heart, e.g. in Throne of Glass, Celaena’s motivation was to win the contest and become the King’s Champion – this was the outer movitation. What was driving her towards this? The promise of her freedom. That’s her inner motivation.
The inner motivation of the character is what makes the character interesting. Finding the why behind what drives their action – this added complexity makes them more realistic.
Get to know your character better by asking them questions
- Who do you love? What do you love?
- What do you want?
- What’s stopping you from getting what you want?
- What are you afraid of?
- What is your deepest darkest secret?
- What do you stand to lose?
This will help you get a better understanding of your character’s personality.
Understand their basic traits
I used Microsoft Excel for this, with one column containing the questions, and the other column containing the name of my character and their answers.
- Do you like your name?
- Do you celebrate your birthday?
- Appearance (height, eye colour, hair colour):
- Clothing style:
- Where were you born?
- Who were your parents?
- What is your relationship like with your siblings/parents/family/friends?
- Level of education:
- Skills and talents:
- Do you consider yourself attractive?
- In a relationship:
- Describe your childhood:
- What’s your favourite childhood memory?
- Favourite food and drink:
- Favourite book:
- Favourite song:
- Do you have any addictions?
- Political view:
- Describe yourself in three words:
It’s handy to keep this in an accessible place as you can refer to this when writing your story to make sure you keep all of the details consistent e.g. with regards to your character’s appearance. Always ask yourself if the actions that your character does in the story is in keeping with their personality. Consistency is key.
Consider their strengths and weaknesses
A well developed character has both positive and negative traits. In the Writer’s Starter Pack, which you can get upon signing up to the mailing list, we have an activity that can help you choose which positive and negative traits apply to your character.
By considering their flaws and weaknesses at the beginning of your story, this can help you along with the plot of your story. Think: what conflicts can arise from this?
If you’ve done all of the above, you should be in a good position to understanding your characters.
Do you have any tips? Have you ever interviewed your characters? Tell us about it in the comments below.