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 writing advice

Creating a Protagonist with Depth: Part Three

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

Now, on to today’s discussion!

Character Arc

What is a character arc?

It’s your character’s journey from who they are at the beginning of the book to who they become by the end.

(Hint: these should be different!)

  • This is basically the main question your character arc needs to fulfill throughout the course of a story. Developing a strong character arc will help you create a character with depth.

There are 3 stages to a character arc.

STAGE ONE

Arc Stage 1

The Catalyst

You need something that will force your character onto the path that will change them from who they are to who you want them to become.

This can be a physical and internal stumbling blocks.

The catalyst is a problem – something your character needs to overcome.

For example…

Tris finding out she’s Divergent.

Katniss volunteering for the Hunger Games to save Rue.

The journey to overcome this problem is what will test them and force them to grow personally and emotionally.

STAGE TWO

Arc Stage 2

During the second stage, your character attempts to resolve the problem from the first stage.
Of course, things can’t go to easily for your character.
In order to make sure your character keeps growing, they need to continue to face new obstacles.
Translation: Things keep getting worse.

Why?
As your character faces new problems, they learn new skills, become more capable, more like the person they need to be.

STAGE THREE

Arc Stage 3

This is the resolution stage, where your story reaches its climax and your character discovers who they are becoming.
This is NOT always the resolution of your characters’ completed arc
If your are writing a series, this may be the first realization for the character of who they want to be or will become.

Your full character arc may stretch over a series of books, but within each book you should have the three stages of the character arc, with the character reaching an important realization at the end of each book.

Making sure your character changes and grows throughout your story will help create a more believable and relatable character.

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.