In all of my behind-ness I am just now creating my characters for my novel next month, which brings me to the question…
How do you craft interesting and exciting characters?
No one stays interested in a Mary Sue who gets whatever she wants all the time and cliches make characters fall flat for many readers. As a writer, I want to create characters that my readers will come to care about. It’s so much more than what that character happens to look like.
What do you need when creating your characters?
We need to know who they are physically, socially, and emotionally— most of all we need to know what they want.
Each character needs to have an objective
- They need a goal that they want so badly they will do pretty much anything to get it. They also might have smaller objectives along the way (in each chapter or scene) but they should be moving toward their overall goal to push the plot of your novel forward.
To create conflict, other characters may have opposing goals— and try to get in the way of that character’s objective.
Which brings us to motivation
- Why does your character do the things they do? Why do they want to achieve their goal?
- Your main character, secondary characters, and antagonist(s) all need to have some kind of motivation for their goals.
And finally action
- How does your character reach or fail to reach their objective.
- Each character can’t reach their objective— what made them fail? How do they feel about it?
You also want to think about the following when Creating your characters
- What are some of the best possible things that can happen to your character?
- And the worst
- You want an interesting story? Throw some curveballs in there. We want to see your character react to those heart-wrenching or terrible moments. We see who your character really is by how they react to them. It makes us care more (even if they don’t react very well).
It’s important to have internal and external conflict
- Sometimes a character has to sacrifice something they love that brings them further from their goal.
- They should always be struggling with something internally and externally throughout the novel.
Know your character’s back story.
- Even if you don’t use all of it in your novel. It’s usually behind their motivations and what makes them want to achieve their goal. Knowing it as a writer, helps you craft believable, multi-dimensional characters.
Most importantly, how does your main character grow over the course of the novel?
Sometimes we don’t know this right away. I usually don’t know until revisions when my plot it tightened up a lot and I can see my character’s arc.
It’s ok to not know this when you first begin your novel. Just try to keep it in mind as you write. You want changes in your character to be natural, a progression from beginning to end. There has to be a turning point where there is no going back and your character can only push forward.
The most helpful book I found to create well-developed characters is Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Cole.
In fact, a lot of the information from this blog post came from there :). Some of her chapters are really long, but she poses great questions to really get you in the mind of your character (and also helps to develop plot, etc).
Other great resources:
I love Susan Dennard’s blog. Right now she is posting a series about crafting characters that I have been following— check it out.
Susan Dennard is the author of Something Strange and Deadly (and it’s sequels) which I have been meaning to get my hands on for some time now.
Google Character Questionnaires to answer a series of questions that will help you get to know your character and their back story a little bit more.
Character questionnaires by Gotham Writers
The Young Writers Program (YWP) also has an excellent Character Questionnaire in their workbook.
And just for fun, the Mary Sue Litmus Test
Not sure if your main character is a Mary Sue? Try this out. (It’s actually pretty fun)
How do you create your characters?
If you’re a pantser:
Do you go in with a character/goal/motivation already in mind? Or does it unfold as you write?
If you’re a planner:
What do you do to get to know your characters? Do you fill out questionnaires?
I love hearing about the process you all have for coming up with characters or planning your novel, so let’s chat!!!