Posted in books

Writing a Character With Depth: Where to Start

Characters can make or break even the best of ideas, but where do you start when building great characters?

It might depend on what type of writer you are. Here are a few options for getting started.

Character Profiling

Invisible Cast

Start with the basics: Who is your character?

  • Create a character profile sheet and be as detailed as possible
  • Physical characteristics
  • Eye/hair color, weight, height, etc.
  • Personality traits
  • Happy, gloomy, morose, optimistic, etc.
  • Likes/Dislikes
  • Fears/Dreams
  • Talents/Goals
  • Secret or otherwise
  • Flaws (We’ll talk about this on in more depth later)

Start with a picture

Car Man Head in HandsInstead of starting from scratch, find a picture you think is interesting and describe what you see. Go deeper than how they look.

  • What motivates these characters?
  • What are there goals?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • How did they end up in this situation?
  • What emotions are they dealing with?
  • Where will they go from here?

Start making a list of character traits that will help bring them to life.

The key with the beginning stages of character development is to get to know your characters, find out what problems they are facing (there MUST be a problem), and what the first stage of their journey looks like.

If you want to hear the full discussion now, listen to “Episode 5: Creating a Character with Depth” on #WritePublishRepeat Podcast.

Posted in writing, writing advice, writing tips

Creating a Protagonist With Depth: Part Five

If you haven’t read the first three part in the series, you can find Part One HERE, Part Two HERE, Part Three HERE and Part Four HERE.


Now let’s discuss how to make your characters fail in a way that makes them better.


iStock_000024086772Large

Failure

Just like nobody enjoys a perfect character, no one likes a character that always makes the right choices and succeeds
If your character always succeeds, where’s the tension, the worry that they might fail? Without that, readers get bored.
A story needs fear that the character will fail/die/be beaten in order to keep readers flipping pages.
Even if they think they know where the story is going, they want to find out how they’ll get there


 How do you make them fail? Rope 2

Look back at their list of faults and flaws. Which of those can you use to put them in a situation where making the right choice will be difficult?
In “What We Saw At Night” Allie doesn’t tell the police what she saw because she’s afraid of getting in trouble for being somewhere she shouldn’t.
Why was she out at night? Because she has a severe sun allergy and has started taking risks because she thinks she won’t live very long.


hand over mouthHow do you avoid nonsense failure?

Does it make sense in real life?
If some guy told you he was sneaking into your room to watch you sleep at night, you’d freak out. Bella, though, was totally cool with it, which has garnered criticism.
Would two parents ever actually split up twin girls and never let them see each other for their own selfish reasons like they did in The Parent Trap? I highly doubt it.
When helping characters make decisions, make sure there’s a good reason for what they choose. Lean on that backstory you crafted.
Do their fears influence them?
Have past hurts caused them to mistrust others when they shouldn’t?


What character failures have left an impression with you?


Posted in characters, writing

Creating A Protagonist With Depth: Part Four

If you haven’t read the first three part in the series, you can find Part One HERE, Part Two HERE, and Part Three HERE.


Now let’s discuss how to fill out your character with some backstory, faults, contradictions, and conflict.

iStock_000014115888LargeBackstory

Now that we have the basics of your character and who they are at the beginning and end, it’s time to fill in the middle.

We do that with backstory. Why is your character the way they are?

Remember those personality flaws, fears, and annoying habits you created earlier? Now it’s time to find out where they came from.

The reason behind the flaw is what makes it interesting.

Ex: Lena from “Beautiful Creatures” is afraid of falling in love because of the curse on her family that tells her she’ll turn evil and hurt the people she cares about.
That’s more interesting than just being too shy to ask a guy out.

Like an iceberg, most of the backstory you come up with will never appear on the pages, but it will make your character who they are. 


Depressed young homeless womanFaults

Nobody likes perfect characters. They’re boring.

Every character needs a few faults.

Make a list of 5 faults your character has – let’s go deeper than not being able to make a free throw.

Personality flaws: unreliable, eccentric, immoral, volatile.

Fears: common or complex – Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes got him in trouble a few times.

Weaknesses: unemotional, domineering, perfectionist.


IMG_0454Contradictions

Faults aren’t enough. Your character needs to be contradictory at times.

Why? No real person behaves the way they should all the time.

We do things we know are wrong, go against our own beliefs, and do the opposite of what we intended to do.

This can go the other way too. Does your bad guy had a soft spot?

No one is all good or all evil. Your characters need to have a mix of both.


Man with SwordConflict

Every good character needs plenty of conflict, not just from situations they find themselves in, but internal conflict as well.

Go back to your list of fears…

Which of these fears will your character face and try to conquer in your story?

While trying to overcome the main conflict in the story, your character must also overcome internal conflicts that are holding them back.

If they don’t, their character arc won’t be completed.


Full, rounded out characters can make or break a story. Giving your character a life outside the story will help them come alive on the pages for your readers.

Posted in characters

Creating a Protagonist with Depth:Part 2

If you haven’t read Part One of this series, you can find it HERE.

Now…on with the show!

In PART TWO of this series, we’ll be talking about Stereotypes and Archetypes. If you’re not sure what one or both of these are, have no fear, they’ll be explained, and we’ll also talk about whether they should or shouldn’t be used and how to tell the difference.

StripedShirtWomanStereotypes

What are Stereotypes and why should you be careful when using them?

Stereotypes

  • A character that is so ordinary or unoriginal that they seem like an oversimplified version of a person, class, gender, etc.

Basically, this means the character is one dimensional. What readers see is what they get. There’s nothing deeper to their thoughts, personalities, or motivations. Simply put, these are not the most interesting characters. Certainly not what you want to model your Main Character after!

Why should you avoid this?

  • Stereotypes are rarely accurate. Not only can they be offensive, they make for poor characters because readers can guess exactly what they will think, do, say, or respond. That’s boring.

There are times when Stereotypes are used effectively in fiction. These are usually your secondary or tertiary characters who aren’t integral to the plot and provide “filler” in a scene or situation. They don’t add to the story, particularly, or move the plot along, and usually have very little page time.

Even when writing these types of characters, be careful to avoid writing a character that draws too heavily on ideas that may be found offensive or off putting. Stereoptypical character should be used very sparingly, even when writing secondary or tertiary characters.

Gabriel with swordArchetypes

What are archetypes and should you use them?

Archetypes

  • A typical character, action, or situation that seems to represent a universal pattern of human nature

Are they bad?

  • Archetypes can be used effectively when done right. For example, the “Hero,” “Innocent Youth,” or “Mentor” characters appear in many works of fiction.

Fantasy and Science Fiction often use archetypal characters, and you also see them quite frequently in comic book storylines as well. Popular examples would included Darth Vader and Anakin/Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars,” The Giver and Jonas from “The Giver,” and Sauron, Gandalf, and Frodo from “The Lord of the Rings.”

  • The challenge is creating an archetype without falling into stereotype. Even if your character is following an archetypal pattern, they still need to be complex and unpredictable at times.

In comic some comic books, the hero and villain are intentionally portrayed as stereotypical archetypes. Such as, the villain is ALL evil while the hero is ALL good. In such stark good vs. evil storylines, this works very well. Many other comics prefer to use more complex heroes and villains, which is what fiction/prose writers want to accomplish as well. No villain is completely evil and no hero is undeniably pure. There has to be more to the story, deeper reasons, secrets, hidden desires, and more layers than your readers can see in one glance to make sure you’re writing a well rounded and interesting archetype.

Next up is Character Arcs…what they are, how to use them, and what they will help you accomplish. In the mean time, I’d love to hear your examples of stereotypical and archetypal characters from books or comics you’ve read!

Posted in writing tips

Creating a Protagonist with Depth: Part 1

Where do you start when you want to create a really great character?

That’s a question that any writers, bot new and established, ask. There’s no black and white answer, but this series will offer up tips on creating strong characters that are layered and offer readers a reason to connect and share their story.

Today, I’ll start off with two popular options for getting started on Character Development.

Option One

Character ProfilingCharacter Traits

  • Start with the basics: Who is your character?
    • Create a character profile sheet and be as detailed as possible
      • Physical characteristics
      • Eye/hair color, weight, height, etc.
      • Personality traits
      • Happy, gloomy, morose, optimistic, etc.
    • Likes/Dislikes
    • Fears/Dreams
    • Talents/Goals
      • Secret or otherwise
    • Flaws
    • We’ll talk about this on in more depth later

Option Two

Start with a Picture

Instead of starting from scratch, find a picture you think is interesting and describe what you see. Go deeper than how they look. What motivates these characters? What are there goals? What are they afraid of? Start making a list of character traits that will help bring them to life.

Take a look at these two characters and tell me what they’re afraid of, why someone might be afraid of them, what they love, what they dream about, what their favorite flavor of ice cream is, or even what their secret fears are. Most of what you come up with you won’t actually use, but it will help you understand them.

I’d love to hear what you come up with for these two characters, so feel free to post your ideas in the comments! And don’t forget to come back for the next installment of Creating A Protagonist With Depth next week.