You are writing your novel, screenplay, short story, etcetera and need good characters. But how do you go about building characters? I will be blunt, there is no definitive answer. Building character is part of the magic in the creative process. But do not fret, there are four essential qualities that go into making great characters. In order to create good characters, you must dig deep. You are going to build the very foundation of their lives.
Here are the four essential qualities that go into making good believable characters:
- Your characters have a strong and defined dramatic need.
- Your characters have an individual point of view.
- They personify an attitude.
- Your characters go through a change or transformation.
Write that list down. Put it somewhere easily accessible to reference when needed.
What works for me is writing one-two page biographies. Start from their childhood to when the story begins. You can keep these bio’s as a reference when writing from that character’s point-of-view. Doing this will prevent your characters from doing as they please.
Every story has a beating pulse…told through the eyes of the character’s heart.
Some “general” things you will want to write down:
- Childhood relationship with parents and friends?
- What was school like? Was he/she bullied, popular, a wall flower, etcetera…
- What was high school like? College? What did he/she major in? Did his/her parents approve of their major?
- How was his/her’s romantic life? Does he/she tend to have lots of sex, none, or somewhere in between? Does her parents/friends/society approve or disapprove of his/her love interests?
- What does he/she like about themself; hate about themself?
- Rich or poor?
- Does he/she like her job? Does her partner approve of his/her work, religion, etcetera…
- Much, much, much more.
The goal here is to find tension.
Building character is part of the magic in the creative processW. Alexander
This may sound strange, but the characters you create cannot be you. Sure, by all means insert your unique experiences into your writing, but your characters cannot be you. You are writing from another point of view, in someone else’s shoes. And don’t worry if you want to change things later. This exercise is to help you build deep, relatable, and believable characters. Whatever changes you make, write them down again.
How well a writer weaves all four together, is the difference between a great and terrible book.
Wherever in your character’s life the story begins, it is important they go through some kind of incident. A change or transformation. Like Harry Potter finding out he’s a wizard or Bilbo finding the ring. I will go deeper into incidents in a later post.
Remember, have fun creating characters. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Happy writing and good luck fellow authors.
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