#3 Novel Writing: Characters
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 00:09
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably fantasized about what life will be like after you write that New York Times bestselling book that you’ve been meaning to get around to. Now, I’m not a published author. Heck, I haven’t even finished a single manuscript. However, I am roughly halfway through one, and in the next few columns, I’ll address some issues that I have had during my writing process. Today’s article will focus on characters, the most important part of any novel.
Characters are what separate good and great books from mediocre and bad books. Main characters don’t need names or appearances; all a good character needs is to be relatable and memorable. These requirements for a good character are deceptively simple. See, things like a weirdly shaped toenail, yellow irises, a strange name or some other oddly unique quality does not make for a memorable character (or, at least, not in a good way). Creating characters that are entirely based on people you know in real life is also a bad idea. The writing process eventually reaches a point where you let the characters make the story themselves, and what you want or expect has little to do with the outcome. Trust me on this; it saves you the trouble of getting hung up on how the character you based on your significant other isn’t falling for the character you based on yourself.
Instead, it should be the character’s motivations, or his or her personality, that is special in some way. Harry Potter is a great example; except for the drive that he has due to his parents’ murder, Harry is extraordinarily ordinary as a wizard. In essence, there should be a reason that your protagonist is the hero. What drives him or her ought to be interesting. At the same time, keep in mind that your “good guys” don’t have to be good all the time. They can be unlikable, and they can do things you find abhorrent. The same applies to “bad guys.” Bad guys that perform evil acts solely for the purpose of evil are seldom the most-loved villains. Remember that villains are human too, and likely to have similar motivations and experiences as the heroes. This makes them particularly good as foils. For example, the Joker’s philosophical approach is similar enough to Batman’s so that he is a seriously compelling enemy for the Dark Knight.
So, there’s a bit of a primer on character creation. But creating a blueprint for a character isn’t always (it actually never is) simple. Try these prompts to get a character fully fleshed-out in your head.
• If your character is in a fantasy/sci-fi setting, drop them into our universe. How do they react?
• Realistic fictional characters? How do they eat their school lunches? With resignation? With gusto?
• Always ask what is driving your character to do something. If it doesn’t make sense to you, it won’t make sense to your audience.