Who do you think is the character closest to you in the picture? Why is he facing all of those warriors? Is his backstory tragic or happy? Has he been pursued to his current place? Who exactly ARE his pursuers?
Certain questions need to be asked when creating a good character. By “good character”, I mean a well-written, 3-D, easy-to-compare with person in your story. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a side character, main character or villain; all of them need proper handling. 2-D characters will wreck your story worse than any plot hole will.
So, you want a character? First, he (or she) needs a good backstory. A DARN good backstory. Typical story arcs can include orphandom, abandonment, poverty, aristocracy, loss, and so on. Why are most of the categories which I just mentioned slightly…morbid? Dark? Simple: tragic and dark backstories are THE BEST. HANDS DOWN. Some of the best characters in literature as we know them have magnificent tragic or dark backstories. Long John Silver was a pirate, a murderer and a thief. Dark enough? Luke Skywalker’s father murdered his wife and left young Luke to a life on a desolate prison planet. Aragorn’s father was killed in battle, and so he was raised by Elrond.
This is the point of a fiction: to create a mood of “down” so we can have an “up”. We depress the characters with whom we have bonded with travesties and problems. There’s the “down”. The “up” comes when we resolve the conflict and the hero/heroine triumphs in the end. Making a character with a darker backstory further lengthens the feeling of “down” which makes the “up” much more triumphant.
I’m not saying that characters without dark or tragic backstories can’t be good, just that they are more frequently not than characters with them. But, as they say, “First impressions are everything.” If, upon the reader’s contact with the main character’s backstory, the reader finds it dull or unflavored, than they don’t really come to love the character. I am very much attracted to the dark and morbid, so I favor tragic backstories. If you prefer lighter backstories, or even more mysterious ones, than it’s better to use your own individual style to go through with this. Choose a backstory that YOU find interesting.
Okay, so we have a backstory. Now what? Well, since part of a character includes their appearance, it’s a good idea to to describe this. In my opinion, this is less important in a book than it is in a movie, but there are a few quirks that you can put in here that help you out quite a bit.
First, how does your character dress? In real life, humans are more likely to recognize other people by their clothes and not their face. So it is with stories: Establish a norm of dressing, and you can use this later to your advantage. Maybe this character has an immense fascination with ball gowns. Maybe this character is a spy, and prefers to dress like a hobo. Whatever it is doesn’t matter, but be sure to describe what they are at first dressed like. This helps you as well as the reader form a visual image about your character.
Next, tell me what they look like. Pretty? Handsome? Ugly? Heavy? Fat? Old? Young? Be sparing with this adjectives. Don’t go into too much of a description. A few key details will do. Try “Handsome redhead with blazing blue eyes” or “Pretty brunette with horn-rimmed glasses and hair in a bun” or “Unattractive, bald geezer over fifty with a gut to behold.” A minimalist portrait, written in words, goes a lot farther than you might realize. Because humans are so complex with a million little details, using the reader’s imagination to automatically fill in the blanks is a smart ploy. You may find one small detail that you make a special disposition for (Such as a scar above the right eye, two watches on the right arm, or whatever), and that also adds character. The reader comes to know Reginald as the “Guy with the skull-and-crossbones ring”. Stick with short, easy-to-understand words to describe your character.
Lastly, make your character do great things. A well-described character with a good backstory goes flat if he/she does nothing worth talking about. This one’s a given, folks.
One final guideline: one good rule is to use models for your characters. As Dickens did, use people in real life as models to describe the ones in fiction. It gives you an actual, visual reference to describe your character. Most notably, the character Sherlock Holmes was based, in both character and appearance, on a friend of Arthur C. Doyle. Remember: Great artists steal.
Good luck, and happy writing!
3 thoughts on “Crafting the Perfect Character”
I never really gave much thought to what the character wears. I always wanted to describe the face the best I can but I didn’t give much thought to the outfit choice. Another thing to use to better show my character, great post!
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Another good post that makes me want to try these tactics on my own characters.
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good advice to help me make good characters
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