Any fiction book worth it’s salt has brilliant characters.
Characters are often the spine of the narrative, the meat on the bones of the plot and they can personify subliminal themes or reflect traits of the authors personality.
Characterisation and writing for characters is an important skill for any good fiction writer and the most famous works of fiction have equally famous characters.
Of Mice and Men, think Lennie and George, The Toy Story — Buzz and Woody, Great Expectations — Pip and Miss Havisham; the list is endless.
Great fiction, needs great characters. Period.
But writing awesome characters takes skill and craft, it takes practice and focus but most importantly it takes humanity and the extraction of emotion.
To make a character seem real, they have to be just that — real. Their traits, feelings, goals, pleasures and dislikes need to be realistic, they need to resonate with your reader.
So, without further ado here are the best writing tips for writing characters.
- Give your a character a goal
Your character will need a vision, so you can flesh out the detail of their opinions and life choices; having a northern star for them to aim for will also help you craft your narrative around them.
A goal could be landing the top position in a company, finding true love, winning the lottery.
If they are the protagonist, then their decision could tilt the direction of the ending, if they are the antagonist, their end-goal is to stop the protagonist.
2. Give them a motivation
This will help them reach their goal and also give you the ammo to build a clearer picture of them in your mind.
Think about the type of person they are, what drives them? Is it good or bad?
3. Give them a fear
Providing your character with fear makes them seem more relatable and therefore the reader can empathise with, and therefore is more engaged in your prose.
Making sure your characters feel human is key and fear is part of being human. Perhaps overcoming that fear could be their goal?
4. Give them a history
This is a really key one. Without a history, even if it’s not included in the narrative, your character can seem hollow and underdeveloped.
A history gives backbone to your character development, it forges the way your character sees the world of your story.
The interesting thing about drawing up a history for your character is that you don’t even need to include it within the narrative, it could be for your knowledge only but it will provide you with tonnes of personality to draw from and write to.
5. Give them a present story
On the flip-side of history, ensure you give your characters and engaging and exciting story.
This is also applicable to characters who aren’t the protagonist, even smaller characters need a story and a purpose to keep the reader interested and help develop sub-plots.
6. Give them a quirk
By now, your character should be beginning to take shape and it’s time to add in the detail that makes them seem real, giving them everyday qualities.
A quirk is something that makes a character stand-out, it contributes to their personality — it might be the way they speak, a twitch, a certain taste for colour or clothing.
A quirk helps differentiate your characters from each-other but also speaks to the readers subliminally; they will begin to be curious about why your character has this quirk.
7. Give them a name
Sometimes the importance of naming a character can seem trivial, or the important of it can seem exaggerated. However, a characters name is so crucial as you breathe them into life.
The name should reflect the character, their beliefs and your characters name will be one of the most read words in your story or book, so chose wisely. Ideally, the name should connote the character traits you’re trying to write.
8. Make them complex
The more complex your character, the richer they are, the more layers there are for the reader to unravel. A complex character is a realistic character, if you give them depth; you avoid stock characters.
Essentially, complex characters are more memorable characters and more memorable characters makes more memorable prose.
9. Make them suffer
If you are developing a protagonist, or a key driving character of the plot; suffering is part and parcel of a realistic narrative journey.
Readers engage with suffering because it’s a human quality, it’s something they can relate to. If your character can overcome this suffering, or even find ways to live with it, this can contribute heavily to your narrative and storyline.
10. Find their perspective
And it doesn’t have to be the same as yours.
Many writers can find it empowering or great for material if their characters are at odds with their own perspective of the world. This means you may have to go out at research your characters, speak to real people who might share the same perspective — from here you can build effective personality and characterisation.
If you’re a young white American, living alone in San-Fran, it’s going to be hard to generate the same perspective of a single mixed-race Mother in New York City.
If you can’t reach out to people, just read their blogs, their articles and draw from their perspective of the world; feeding it into your character.
11. Find their redemption
Perhaps your characters perspective of the world is an unhealthy one, after all not all characters are good people, or positive influences — not to begin with anyway.
Giving your character a redemption, a chance to change and become better is a complementary trait to any compelling narrative. Your character should come good, so give them a reason to.
12. Find their refuge
When things aren’t going well for your character, make sure they have a place of refuge.
It could be their Grandmothers kitchen and a hearty spaghetti bolognese, it could be the bar with their friends or it could be a laptop and headphones as they strive to become the next big writer.
13. Find their voice and language
This is the last one, and possibly the most important. The thing with writing is that your language should paint pictures in the mind. You should really consider how your character will speak because it does so much hard work to characterise them.
Will they speak with an accent? Will they be short and sharp, or languid and funny?
All good fiction needs great characters. In many ways its the bread and butter of great fiction writing; take time to craft your characters, make sure they feel right and human before putting them out to the world.