Characters: Who are They and Why do We Care?
Arguably the most important element in a story is your main character or MC. Without a good relatable MC your book will fall flat and lose readers. While there are common tropes you need to avoid, we will cover those in another post. Today we will focus on what you can do to make your character someone readers care about. Please keep in mind that no matter how hard you try you cannot make your character appeal to everyone. So, take a look at your genre and target audience and go from there.
Here are five things you can do to make your MC seem more human:
- Know your character inside and out: No, I’m not suggesting you name your first child after your character and see what traits develop. What I am suggesting is you really develop them as if you were interviewing a person. What is their favorite food? What can’t they stand to eat? Do they have any pet peeves? What was their childhood like?
- Give them flaws: It’s incredibly difficult to connect to the perfect protagonist. By perfect I mean they do everything perfectly even the first time. For instance a character who takes a painting class and paints a masterpiece. You can have talent for art and still won’t be able to paint masterpiece on your first try. And if that’s art of your plot, then you need to give them a pretty significant flaw. Maybe they are the clumsiest person ever. (But maybe do a better job than Stephanie Meyers and E. L. James. of having their flaw not just be cute)
- Find their pain: Everyone has some kind of pain within them. Whether you feel that pain is valid or not, doesn’t actually matter. For example, if your antagonist is from a wealthy family and felt his mother never loved him, you may think that’s ridiculous, but you are not your character. You are creating someone new. And they need to believe 100% in their convictions. They don’t have to be your beliefs. This is really important for all characters but it gets lost and forgotten most when creating
- Make you main characters diverse:
Writing diverse characters adds to the realism and the interest of your story, and gives you more to write. While writing diversely is incredibly important, make sure you’re not perpetuating harmful stereotypes. If you’re writing a character who is a different race, gender, sexuality, culture, or is neurodiverse, do your research. Like in school, Wikipedia doesn’t count. Interview people, read books, and listen to other authors who have experience writing diverse characters. As far as physical descriptions go, check out the Writing With Color tumblr, which is an invaluable resource. It means the world to readers when they open a book and see themselves within the pages.
- Write some scenes about their life before the book’s plot begins: This is my favorite character building exercise! Write about your character in a situation that occurred before your novel starts. For The Starsboro Chronicles, I wrote the scenes where Trent and Zurik were kidnapped. The emotions of their parents and the people around them still affect their interactions. I also wrote a scene where Trent, as a little boy, sneaks off to follow Zurik in the woods and nearly drowns. This scene was pivotal to my understanding of Zurik’s need to keep Trent safe. These exercises are so much fun and you will surprised how much you learn about your characters, things you would have figured out as you wrote your novel, but now can be incorporated purposefully.
What is your favorite character building exercise? How well do you know your characters?