It can be hard to create a cast of characters that are well-rounded, interesting and, above all, believable. Your plot can be amazing, your world-building precise and imaginative, but if you fill this world with clichéd, two-dimensional people, your story will fall as flat as your characters. Here are a few ways to create your characters, make them relatable and keep your readers compelled.
Have a conversation
One of the first things I do when writing new characters is talk to them. Not out loud, like I do to myself my cat, but I love to sit and do some free writing and conjure up a back and forth between me and my new character! You might feel silly at first, but try asking your character some questions, almost like you are texting them or chatting online. How do they answer you? Are they bemused by this whole process too? Great! Ask them about anything you like. Their work, their friends, their deepest, darkest secrets (if you can convince them to tell you)! What’s their stance on Donald Trump? Do they think Marmite is awesome or disgusting? Do they like The Great British Bake Off? Yep, asking all the important questions over here!
All of these questions, no matter how silly, help you form the idea of a real person, not just ‘red-haired, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who’s a bit quirky’ or ‘man with chiselled jaw and piercing blue eyes’. Although he sounds great actually, go get his number.
Strengths and weaknesses
Sorry, did we just walk into a job interview? Yes, I hate thinking of my own strengths and weaknesses, and I bet your characters can’t think of theirs either. But even if they don’t realise what they are, they have them! Is your character very loyal to his friends? Does she have a tendency to over-exaggerate things? Is she insanely good at playing the trombone? Does he have a gambling problem? There are so many possibilities, and some of these traits will no doubt reveal themselves as your story unfolds.
Having these strengths and weaknesses means you can plonk your characters into all sorts of interesting situations and keep that plot weaving around nicely. Perhaps your protagonist can use her gutsy head for heights and courageous nature whilst saving her dog from a burning building. Maybe you have a character who is given the ultimate opportunity to set things right with his girlfriend, but lets his pride get in the way…again. Will he ever realise he’s sabotaging his relationships? Maybe, but let your readers find out along with him!
Make sure you keep a nice balance here. After all, nobody’s perfect. Not even Chris Pratt. Sorry Chris. As great as they might sound at first, it gets boring reading about someone who is good looking, talented at everything, and a really nice person to boot. Give them some depth! Similarly, I don’t think anyone is 100% bad with absolutely no redeeming qualities. Sure, you might have to really dig deep with some people, but even that serial killer in your crime novel will have something. Maybe he’s really nice to his mum. Perhaps she makes a great spaghetti bolognaise. Maybe there’s something inside them that gives your reader that brilliant ‘love to hate’ feeling. Exploit it!
It can get a little confusing when you have all these people floating around in your brain. Who was it who had six little sisters? Was it Emma that fell off a horse when she was a kid, or was it Eleanor? I’m sure it started with an E. This is where character sheets come in handy! When something new and interesting pops up with your character, make a note of it. This can be as simple as the colour of their eyes – eliminating the need for me to jump in during your edit being all annoying going, ‘Ah-ha! They had blue eyes earlier, now they have green!’ – or as complex as notes on their medical history.
Hopefully this blog post has sparked a few ideas on how to bring your characters to life. If you have any more suggestions, please do let me know in the comments! If you’d like to know how I can help you with your manuscript further, take a look at my services page or drop me an email!