Delving into the Character of a Great Character

Two blogs in two days, what is the world coming to?!!!!! HA! We can only hope it includes unicorns and dragons and free books and somehow becomes a place where authors get paid an exuberant amount and have all kinds of sparklies lavished upon them daily! I don’t know how the free books and wealthy authors work out together but it’s my dream world so just go with it…just focus on the sparklies…oh the sparklies!

Must…stop thinking about…the sparklies…

So (clears throat) back to writing, (somewhat reluctantly)…characters and their development are essential to almost every novel/short-story of all genres. Settings and plot are not to be downplayed or have their importance lessened of course, but the characters of a story are invaluable. Readers have to love, hate, desire, fear, sympathize with and relate to the people they encounter within the pages of a book. Characters need to be realistic, human (not to be confused with humane), even those who aren’t necessarily  human have to have some sort of relatability to garner some sort of emotion from readers. Heroes. heroines, villans, villainess, best friends and the wacky neighbor down the street all need to be developed to some degree with flaws and imperfections depending on their relevance to the story. A real person is beautiful and ugly at the same time, contains both light and dark aspects and is, in fact, a walking contradiction to some degree. So should a character be.  A good character is three-dimensional, fully functioning and always motivated, always.

Think about it…

There is a reason for everything you do, from going to the fridge out of hunger to grimacing at someone because they once said your hair looked ugly (the jealous fiends!). It’s the same with a person in a story, they will be petty and hungry and those characteristics will drive them forward. A real character will have real motivations, real desires and real flaws. To write convincing characters think about yourself, about the people you know, what makes them seems real? What moves them? (Not that you should be writing the people you know into your stories, this is more of a practice thing). But above all listen to the characters themselves.  Take the time to listen to the stories they have to tell, suspend judgment (which is harder done than said) and their desires and motivations will reveal themselves. Don’t be afraid to write a protagonist with serious flaws, as long as those flaws fit the character; he or she should be relatable. No one is perfect and those who are perceived to be are usually annoying and instantly turn people off. On the other side, a villain will always have a motivation as well and it very well could be based off of a desire to do a perceived good as opposed to raw malicious intent. Don’t make the mistake of only focusing on one side of the story, the villain does not have to be completely sympathetic to the point where the reader will be confused about who to root for, nor does a protagonist have to be devoid of negative attributes; a touch of humanity goes a long way.

Take the time to fully develop a character and a character’s voice, don’t rush into a story without knowing who you are really writing about. Be patient, think about who this person/character is, what does he/she want and why, how do they feel about all this, how would they react to this obstruction being placed in front of them, would they balk, fight, run? And remember: be consistent, if a character’s character changes (and it should over the course of a novel) then it should be gradual and displayed over time. No one changes (fully) in one day. I’ve never understood writers who say they force their characters to do something or think a certain way or give them a name they want them to have, it seems unnatural and a character must be natural. If you have a naturally shy and timid character and you force them to suddenly — and without provocation — engage in a sword fight or a catty battle of words with someone they fear, it comes across as unnatural and leaves the reader feeling cheated and confused. Why did this character suddenly engage instead of withdraw, or inexplicably develop a taste for adventure when the previous fifty or so pages described them as a contented homebody? If a character naturally does something odd or naturally changes then there should be an understandable motivation behind it — it should not be because the writer wanted this random change — and it should take time to occur.

Understanding the intricacies of a character is not difficult, merely time-consuming, but taking the time to understand the “whys” makes translating a believable character to the page that much easier for both the writer and the reader. Don’t be afraid to question a character, the most important thing a writer can do is ask “Why?”.