Character Building is a one of the most important things in any story. A story could have an excellent plot, a stupendous theme, and a revolutionary moral, but if we don’t know why the hero is doing what he’s doing, why he is the way he is, we don’t care. Or, even worse, if we don’t give him a personality, we won’t care.
Character Building is making your character. Some writers use long lists of irrelevant questions to “interview” their characters. But Character Building is much more than knowing what color their car is, or even how old they are. Sure, they might come into the story once in a while, but likely they’ll only be mentioned.
The big part of Character Building, what you really want to focus on, is the character’s personality. The readers don’t care about what color hair the main character has, even if it’s hot pink, and that’s why you need to focus on the personality. Now say this person is sort of rebellious against her parents wishes, and she dyes her hair pink spitefully against her mother’s wishes - now that matters, because it shows part of her personality - rebelliousness.
You might already have a rough idea for a character, or maybe not. But when you’re starting out, you’ll usually want to browse over a list of traits, good and bad, and pick out a few that work well together and fit with this character you’re making. For example, don’t pick both submissive and rebellious for the same character, because they’re virtually the same. You can, however, pick shy and rebellious. Why? Because shy doesn’t necessarily contradict rebellious, it just means he or she might not be so outspoken about it.
I have a list of traits here. For starters, pick out two good traits and one bad one. It’s hard to give your hero a bad trait, but you need to realize it doesn’t make your character evil, instead it makes him or her human, realistic, and 3D. 3D as in, the character isn’t all good, their might be some dark secrets he or she is hiding, something that the character doesn’t want to reveal. In the end, you’ll probably want it to be exposed.
But that’s for later.
- can't keep a secret
- dependent on others
- doesn't learn
- never satisfied
- no sense of humor
- taking self too seriously
- too trusting
- unable to commit
On that list you’ll see several disagreeable and unlikable traits that you can pick for your character. You’ll likely not be wanting to have the truly evil ones for your character. Then again, you might.
I’ll give you a few minutes to pick out three of them, two likable and one not so likable, or even evil.
So if you haven’t quite got the ones that fit, that’s alright. You can review your character this week, but now, we’ll stick with the ones you have now. You probably have some kind of a character forming in head now, so we can continue on.
I’ve pre-written a scene in which your character is faced with an important decision. Decisions, actions, and reactions are what makes a character shine through the page and become 3D to you and the reader. Your character is shaped in the decisions he makes.
Your character just discovered he has inherited one hundred million dollars from a trust fund, how does he react? Is he just satisfied? Does he hyperventilate? Maybe he is annoyed or refuses to accept if he believes money is the root of all evil. And also, aside from his physical actions, what is he thinking during this time? WHY is he excited about this? Is it because he can now move out of his old apartment, have a vacation, and still afford a lambergini? Or is it because he can now help the community by paying for a new library?
Here’s another situation.
Your character lives in a very poor district of town. He must somehow get food for the rest of himself and the rest of his family. He has two options; 1, to go out and find any sort of second or third job he can get, though its low pay still might not be enough. And 2, to go into the streets and steal bread or other food (and remember, though this might be wrong, your character would have plenty of motivation for it). Of course, if your character was lazy, he might not do anything at all. But for this exercise, pick one of the two above.
And finally for a third situation.
Your character wants a job. But at the first four interviews he’s been rejected, what does he do? Keep trying? Give up despairingly? Try a new plan? Or maybe recruit a friend for help?
The first of those three examples was how a character reacted to getting an enormous amount of money. The second was a decision, and the third was an action.
What your character wants.
What your character needs.
What your character believes (is it a lie?).
What your character thinks he needs.
If each of those questions has different answers, even if they’re just slightly varied, will make a dynamic and realistic character. Those were some good questions to build on the story goal, what the main character is going after throughout the entire story - it also builds on your character and who he or she is.
The characters, in a story, are literally the most important thing. Enjoyable characters make enjoyable stories, make your characters real.
Related Posts: Character Arcs