Strong, life-like characters are the basis of any book. You can have the most gripping story, but without good characters, it will look no more than a stage scenery as a background for wooden dolls to meander by.
But fear not, fellow writers! In this post with indispensable writing advice, I will show you 3 simple tips for creating indelible characters.
And we’re starting from the very beginning, learning…
1. How to steal
No, it’s really fine to steal sometimes, believe me! You need to steal from real life examples to make your characters real life-like. So keep calm, no harm actually done. 😉
So how do you “steal” your characters?
Think about your friends or even perfect strangers: what is something peculiar about them that draws your attention? How would such traits fill in your book? What inspiration can you get from them to make up your very own character?
Done here? Good! Then step ahead in your process of writing unforgettable characters and learn…
2. How to create a character with a personality test
This tip on writing memorable characters might seem a bit odd.
“Why should I take a personality test?” you would ask me. Well, these tests are great for getting to know your characters. And of course yourself.
How to research your character with a personality test
Search the internet for a personality test that matches your story or just find something interesting that sounds like a good starting point to gather your ideas on the character. Just think about the character first and don’t be carried away with finding out what character you are from Game of Thrones.
The key here is trying to become your character for a little bit and answer the questions as they would. Then gather all the details you found out about your character: these will be a great inspiration for your process.
Take the test thinking carefully about your choices: each choice isn’t only yours, but rather your character’s. Try to put yourself in their shoes and answer the questions. Then write down the information you got from the test: it will be a fine basis for your character-building efforts.
Now, on to our last bit of advice on writing unforgettable characters. This one will teach you…
3. How to mutilate your characters to make them alive
This headline might sound contradictory, but some defect in your characters make them really alive. And yes, this tip is actually about doing harm to people (or aliens, or zombies, or those little guinea pig-like creatures which are the characters for your next fantasy novel). But hey, it’s for good! Trust me.
So you have a character, maybe it’s your protagonist, and he or she must be so beautiful and perfect in each and every way that even sun shines brighter when they’re around, right?
Yes, if you want to write a comedy, maybe this is the way. But if you want to write your characters natural, it’s a bad idea to make them perfect. Your readers simply won’t buy it. There’s no perfect people in the world. People are people, you know. They are generally nice and cool and good-looking, but, let’s be honest here, everyone has their darker sides and even defects. And that’s what makes them interesting.
Consider this: would you follow the story of Harry Potter if he was just an ideal boy, obedient, handsome and always playing by the rules? He’s not perfect in any way, far from that. In fact, he has a scar, he’s physically weaker than many other boys, he lost his parents, he lost his home.
Another example, a close one: Harry Potter’s enemy Lord Voldemort. Would you care for him in the least if he was just an almighty evil wizard, without his tormented body and shattered soul?
There was a film Soul Surfer about a girl who had been attacked by a shark. She lost her whole arm. It’s a story about special, one of a kind person who is so determined to fulfill her destiny to be a surfer that she overcome her physical defect and become the best surfer in the competition. Now, would that story even touch you if you were watching a perfect girl with a pretty face and two strong arms?
Again, there are no perfect people, and if you’re striving for writing real, breathing characters, you shouldn’t make them perfect too.
The imperfection can be physical, and thus very much obvious:
- Matt Murdock from the recent Netflix show Daredevil is blind,
- Doctor House has his limp,
- Piggy from Lord of the Flies is shortsighted.
Or you can provide your characters with a mental imperfection:
- Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games is always struggling with herself about her guilt and doubts,
- Rincewind from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels is a lame wizard who isn’t capable of any spells but one (which he remembered completely by accident or rather terrible mistake),
- Matt Murdock (again, from Daredevil) is torn between faith in God and his desire to avenge the innocent victims of thugs from Hell’s Kitchen.
Being a successful writer isn’t really an easy endeavor. But who said that writing memorable characters should be hard? You just need to know a few useful tricks to base your process on. So here they are once more:
- Steal (or borrow, if you prefer this word) characters from real life
- Use personality tests to better understand your character
- Give your characters some kind of an imperfection
That’s all the tips for creating indelible characters that will stick with your readers. Simple, isn’t it? Just as I promised. Share these tips with your friends and apply them to your writing process.
Now, do you have something to add to this list? Only simple tips for writing memorable characters! Add them in the comments below and let’s discuss how to breathe life into our books.