Poppy is the author of A Bard's Lament and the Black Diamond series. She lives in Enoshima with her husband and young son.
I was seventeen when I first started writing my first "real" book. Since I was typing the first few chapters as a teenager, I have learned a lot about writing and picked up many skills that, once you know them, seem obvious.
A lot of stories are spoiled by the lack of character development. Having a believable, three-dimensional character is arguably one of the most important aspects of storytelling. Whether you're working on flash fiction or a novel, there is always at least one character involved. He or she is the heart and soul of your story. With someone interesting to share the adventure with, readers are far more likely to turn the page.
Here are the essential steps you need to make to create a likable, believable and memorable character.
Decide on Basic Details
The first thing you have to do when creating a new character is basic information about them. Create a new file or start a new page in your notebook, decide on some details and, once you have begun your story, stick to these details.
Here are some things for you to think about:
- When and where was your character born? In the dead of night in winter? In an old shack, the back of a car or a hospital? Were there a lot of people there at the time, or did the character's mother give birth alone?
- What is their sexual orientation?
- What do they look like? Are they tall, short or average? What's their body build? Hair and eye colour? Are they physically attractive? How old are they at the beginning of your tale?
- What kind of personality do they have? Are they kind or selfish? Grumpy? Quiet? Bossy? Funny? Open-minded? It's important to make your character likeable, but they can't be without flaws. Decide on several basic personality traits for your character, some positive and one or two negative. Make sure they are compatible, though.
- What kind of voice do they have? High-pitched? Rumbling? Scratchy?
- Is there anything about your character that people immediately notice? A great smile? Towering height and broad shoulders? A beautiful wave of long, shimmering hair? A missing limb? Dimples?
Expanding Their World
After you've decided on some basics, it is important to shape the world around them that has made them into who they are. Think about:
- Their family: Is it large or small? Do they live nearby? Is your character close to her parents? Is she an orphan? Does she have brothers and sisters or is she an only child?
- Where they grew up: Did they always live in a specific place, and if so, how did it affect their beliefs and values? Or did they travel around a lot and never settle in a specific place?
- Childhood memories and experiences: What has happened in their life to shape who they are in your book? Were they bullied? Top of the class? Childhood trauma?
- Friends and acquaintances: At this point, you don't have to go into a lot of detail about the people around your character, but give a clear indication of their immediate influences for your reference later. Who's their best friend? Are they close to their families? Do they have any pets?
- Their job: If applicable. Do they enjoy it? How long have they done it? What's their relationship with their boss?
More Complex Traits
As you're throwing around ideas about the above, you'll start to know your character more deeply. Depending on what you've decided for what we just discussed, you may be able to think (or perhaps, you already know) the following:
- Your character's hopes and desires. Your character must have a goal in each part of your book; that is what keeps the story flowing. But what are her more private dreams and hopes? Does she hope to become rich? Become a strong warrior? A pilot? A parent with twenty children?
- Your character's fears. We all have fears, rational and irrational. Does your character hate insects? Snakes? The dark? Fire? If so, why? Does their childhood trauma, if there is any, affect this?
- Their hobbies. What do they do in their spare time? Do they like to sew? Paint? Sing?
As you make notes, discard ideas and brainstorm, your character will slowly start to come to life. Once you understand them, you'll know exactly how they will react in the situation you put them in.
- What are their likes and dislikes? Do they love animals? Prefer the city or the countryside? Savoury or sweet? Horror or comedy?
- Are they an introvert or an extrovert? Optimist or pessimist? What kind of sense of humour do they have?
Try taking a personality test AS your character, and see what kind of person they turn out to be. Did you completely make them up, or are they based on someone you know?
Putting Them Into the Story
I'll assume that you will start with the development of your main character. After you have a plan of your character's traits, and perhaps draw a picture of them, you'll have a much clearer idea of how they react when you put them into a situation in your story.
Keep in mind that not everything you decide on will necessarily make it into the story itself. If your character is allergic to peanuts, but never comes close to eating any, it doesn't mean you've wasted your time decided on this trait. You need to know your character like you know a sibling or a friend.
Your character is in your story. What's happening to them? How do they treat the people around them, and how are they treated back? Do they take the path of justice or an easier, darker path? What is their reasoning behind their actions?
All of these questions are much easier to answer when you have developed your character properly. When writing a new story, sometimes it is better to begin with the character, and let their life play out naturally based on their actions.
Traits might end up making exciting plot twists. Does your character accidentally eat something they're allergic to? Get stuck in a situation where they must overcome their biggest fear? Make sure your readers know your character as well as you do so that when the time comes for them to overcome an obstacle, your readers will share her excitement.
Questions & Answers
Question: How do you know when your characters and plot are fleshed out enough?
Answer: That’s a good question. When the story is complete, you have to ask yourself if your characters are really memorable. Try asking a beta reader to get back to you on plot, characters, and writing style. If a reader likes a character or characters, they’ll mention it.
© 2016 Poppy
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on November 02, 2016:
Keep trying! There is always the route of self-publishing (though make sure you prepare properly first.) I wrote an article about steps to take before self-publishing which might help you, https://toughnickel.com/self-employment/Things-You...
Have you written any books so far that you're hoping to publish?
Louise Barraco from Ontario on November 02, 2016:
This is great so helpful for all writers me included I have been writing since a very young age but haven't gotten anything published