Are you starting a story? Do you have an incomplete, flawed, or no character at all? It's happened to me many times and in my struggles to perfect my creations, I have learned a few things. I present you with seven easy steps with a challenge each to get you thinking.
Grab a piece of paper and a pencil. Let's start
Step 1: Past
When creating a character, you must first establish a past. Even a person with amnesia has a past, they just don't remember it. Pasts are important, they show what shaped the person and why they are the way they are today.
If your character has a scar, why? If they have amnesia, why? If they have a phobia of water, why?
Remember one thing: there is always a reason. Challenge:
Write a brief story (vignette) of your character's past to familiarize yourself with the way things were.
Step 2: Appearance
You may have a certain idea, a vague idea, or no idea at all as to how your character will look. First, think of their past. Having survived their past, how do they look? If they were rich and enjoyed it, would they be on the chubby side?
Some important things to consider when thinking of appearance: eye color, skin color, hair color/hair type (long and full of body, etc.), height, weight, scars or flaws in skin (missing limbs, etc.), amount of muscle, emotions most conveyed in face (haunted, cheerful, etc.), distinguishing markings (tattoos, brandings, etc.), and whatever else you feel is important.
Whether or not you're good at drawing, it's a good idea to try to draw your character at least once to establish familiarity and finalize their design in your head.Challenge:
Draw your character now or write a detailed description from the point of view a stranger off the street.
Step 3: Relationships
Now we move on to relationships. Relationships are vital; they tie in with a character's past, their present, and their future. You'll want to know who your character's mother, father, extended family, friends, boy/girlfriend(s), and enemies are. If your character's parents are MIA, do they have foster parents? Do they live in an orphanage? Are they old enough to live alone?
How do these relationships affect your character? Challenge:
Write a vignette with your character interacting with their enemy and closest friend at the same time to distinguish how they feel for each other.
Step 4: Powers
Powers apply to nonfiction or realistic-fiction characters as well as fictional.
Nonfiction or Realistic-Fiction Characters: These characters powers would be talents. Are they really smart? Can they run faster than most? Make sure you establish the most important powers. There is always a reason they have these "powers."
Fictional Characters: These characters may have more interesting powers such as super-strength, telekinesis, ect. The difference with these powers is there isn't always a reason they have them, though it tends make more sense if there was.
A note on fictional powers: Like people, no interesting powers are perfect. You always hear the stories of the genie that turned someone into a frog because they wanted to jump high. Powers with no limit that can easily be mastered are no fun to read about or watch. Make it part of the journey to harness the magic, or if they already have before the story starts somehow show that even the most experienced handler can have troubles. Even quarterbacks have their bad season.Challenge:
If you have a non- or realistic-fiction character, research how they may have obtained such talents. Was it through intensive training or does it run in the family? If you have fictional characters, find a way around the power (like resisting the Force from Star Wars) and file it away for later when your story needs spicing up.
Step 5: Present Personality
Now that all the past and omnipresent facts are established, you need to know how the present situation (your story) is affecting your character depending on their personality (which should have been developed along the first three steps). This is the easiest and hardest step so far.
Put your character in a situation and watch how they handle it. If someone attacks them, what will they do? The outcome reflects your characters present personality.
Also, you want to note your character's current age.Challenge:
Ask a friend(s) to do some role-playing, dole out the characters and their personalities, the situation ("Okay guys, we're all in a park about to bust some drug dealers
") and let fly. Surprising things can happen if they play their roles correctly.
Step 6: Believability
be believable. I need to emphasize the must. All people have a weakness, whether it be a fear of heights or a limp. As your character is a believable person, they will need a weakness. It can be big or small, noticeable or inconspicuous; there can even be more than one.
No one is invincible.
Some examples include: Superman and his weakness to kryptonite, Iron Man and his weakness to electro-magnetic pulses.
But a character doesn't just need a weakness to a physical object; they can also be guilt-ridden or insecure. Any negative human emotion can do it.
In the protagonist (good guy or hero) the reader/viewer will tend to look for a bit of themselves in the character and they often tend to keep reading/watching if they do. For them, to see someone they can sympathize with go through a journey and defeat the villain is proof they could do it too. Everyone likes encouragement.Challenge:
List three possible weaknesses now. (These can always be changed later)
Step 7: Last Touches
I can never tell someone how to make a character perfect, it takes days of hard work and lots of vignettes to shave your character down to size. If you've been organized you may have written your characters info in a notebook or word processor document while reading this, good job!
Believe it or not, a name is one of the last things you give a character. When naming, keep in mind the origins of your character. If their parents were Mexican, would they have a Spanish name?
Most names also have meanings. If you already have a name in mind, go check the meaning. Sometimes it just feels right to give a character a name with a definition that seems right. I recommend behindthename.com
for your most reliable naming source.
One last touch before you can continue perfecting your character: decide whether they are going to be static
means the character does not change as a person (personality).Dynamic
means they do change as a person.Challenge:
Research three possible names now.
-To use this guide, there is no need to do the Steps in order. Your fresh-baked character will come out all the same if you name them first, and give them a weakness last.
- For a main character, you normally want to create someone the readers will be sympathetic with. It doesn't usually do to have the viewers booing the hero.
- For an antagonist (bad guy) you generally want to make a despicable person if they're static, or someone that the readers could sympathize with if they are dynamic for the better (turn good or find peace).
- (Most) characters are human, humans act human. Observe some people (without being creepy) and just see how they act and interact.
- There is a distinct difference between nonfiction and fantastical characters. With this guide, you can profile
(or organize the facts) a nonfiction character, you're not really creating them. When profiling a nonfiction character, the author may hold little to no creative liberty over them, while with a fictional character there is literally a blank page to fill. Make sure to stick to facts when profiling a nonfiction character.
- Be aware of "May-Sue's" and "Gary-Stu's," the faulty-beyond-reason characters. There is no set definition for these characters, but they are often "perfect," ask any writer, read a story some have shown a Sue or Stu to star in, and you'll know what they are.
- If your character has a favorite weapon, make sure to include that in your notes too.
You now have a bit more than a basic outline of your character! Go on and write your screenplay, script, short story, or novel! There's nothing quite like completing a riveting story. Good luck!"Achievement seems to be connected with action. Successful men and women keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don't quit."
- Conrad Hilton"It is our choices ... that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
- J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets)