Lesson 2

Create your characters

(image: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment)

In this lesson, we’re going to talk about characters and how to make them compelling.

Designing characters

Characters, whatever form they come in, should be:

  • relatable,
  • believable,
  • and consistent.

You want your characters to be somebody a reader feels invested in, either positively or negatively. For instance, they want to see them succeed, or want to see them get their comeuppance.

There are many ways to achieve this. You can take cues from real life people and turn them into characters. Or, you can build them from the ground up – assign personality types (such as the Myers-Briggs matrix), define their likes and dislikes, and dream up their physical appearance. However you like to work, just use the list above as a checklist to ensure each character is perfect.

What I always suggest is building biographies for each of your characters. Not only will this help you with consistency throughout the novel, but it also allows you to deepen your understanding of the character, and enrich them. Each feature, each personality trait you add to a character also defines something that a reader can connect with. We are all complex creatures, and your novel’s characters should be too.

When writing your biography, note down aspects such as:

  • age
  • gender and sexual orientation
  • race and place of birth
  • eye and hair color
  • clothing preferences
  • defining features
  • personal history
  • resulting personality
  • habits and quirks
  • accent or word choices
  • and of course, purpose

Character purpose

Another golden rule is that each of your characters needs to have a purpose. Everyone on the planet has a purpose. Short-term or long-term, we all want something. Each of your characters, no matter how minor, needs to have a purpose. It’s how each of these motivations interact, conjoin and conflict that will allow a story to shine – making it inherently human and believable.

From writing biographies and creating purpose, you will be able to see which characters clash or mix with one another, and that’s how you start to hone in on some of the key moments in your story – places where you can create tension or intrigue.

Next up, we will look at world-building, one of my personal favorite parts of writing a book. This is the backdrop of your story, the stage your characters interact with, and very important indeed.

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