Think about your favorite book… Remembering the title and the author’s name of your favorite novel, or any novel that you’ve read recently, is expected. But if it’s your favorite book then I’m sure that you can tell me the plot, the main character’s name, the villain, and all of the supporting characters. In some way, that particular book left such an impression on you that you will never forget it, and you will probably read it multiple times throughout your life. What is it about that novel that makes it your favorite? Is it that the story itself is one that you can relate to? Was the plot able to take you to another place in your mind and help you escape your reality? Or maybe there was that one line in the book that you often find yourself quoting because it spoke to a place deep in your soul. Whatever it was that made that book your favorite, I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the way you found a connection with one or more of the characters. You arrived at point where they were no longer characters, but real people who you now had an emotional investment in. As writers, it is our job to create this type of experience for readers and to write characters that they will love, hate, empathize with, resent, cheer for, but ultimately understand.
Knowing Your Leading Man/Lady
As an author, you are the first person to be introduced to your main character. You are the first to learn who they are, what their plight is, their strengths, and their flaws. Many times authors are afraid to write a lead character that has flaws. Some think, “How can he or she be a good hero/heroine if they have flaws?” or “Will this character be likable with deep flaws?” I think that this way of thinking gives a writer a detrimental disadvantage when it comes to character development. From my experience as a reader and author I’ve learned that most people don’t connect with “perfect” characters as deeply as they do with flawed ones. A character that doesn’t seem likable all the time can still be more relatable than one that can never do wrong. Be true to who your lead character really is. Don’t be afraid to explore and expose their flaws while helping readers understand what has caused them to be damaged.
Know the History and Evolution of Your Characters
What happened to your character that caused them to be flawed? Maybe they witnessed the death of a family member and now they are consumed with hate for the person that they want to get revenge on. Maybe they were molested or abused at some point in their life and they are struggling with their identity. Maybe they’ve been neglected or disappointed by those who they love and now it’s hard for them to trust. What is their history? Understanding where they came from and what they went through will explain where they are at this point in your story. Not only that, but highlighting moments from your character’s history will help you develop the overall plot.
Lastly, how does the character evolve throughout the story or series? What is the end result for your main character? Where will they end up and how will they get there? How will the things that they will experience in your story/series change them? In what ways will they grow, and what parts of their character will regress? How will they respond to the adversity that they will face? You are the writer, so all of these things are completely up to you. But just because these characters are born in your imagination, it doesn’t mean that they have to stay trapped there. Allow them to break out of the limitations that you have set for them and they will begin to tell a story of their own.
Written by D.D. Bridges 11/10/16
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