Insert Tik Tok’s viral theme: I’ve been waiting for this one!
Characters. I mean, yes, I know the setting, the world building, the politics, and all of the other important things that make a story but to me, none are nearly as important as the characters. If I don’t love or relate to characters, it makes anything I’m reading hard to get into. Yes, I critique all aspects of the books I read, but I love a well written character. Man, do I love a well written character.
Let’s break it apart though, shall we?
What makes a well written character? Personally I think I speak for most readers when I say we want to be able to connect with a character. A character that we want to climb into the pages and hug, cry, or laugh with. We want to feel like we’re a part of the story, like this character could be our very best friend or worst enemy in real life.
Now this doesn’t go to say that you can’t write a great story that will be mega successful with mediocre characters. I’ll probably get hate for this but Twilight is a great example of this. Bella was a pain in my butt. I loved some of the other characters, Rosalie and Alice, for example, but Bella? Now, I enjoyed the books as a whole. I’ve seen all the movies. I feel a lot of its success was tied to how Meyer did a new take on vampires outside the normal. But the plot was well written, in my opinion, and she had a mostly great group of characters to round it out and keep it going and in all honesty, the other characters and morbid curiosity on whether Bella would ever outgrow the teenage angst kept me going through the slow parts.
Back a number of years ago I came across a book called Wake by Amanda Hocking. Like Twilight, it was a fantasy genre but instead centered around Sirens and though I didn’t have high expectations (teenage angst is not my strong point. I can tell I’m in my thirties HA!) the book and the entire series surprised me. Biggest difference really was the characters. Gemma was also a typical high schooler but her personality wasn’t nearly as annoying.
As I said earlier, as a reader, we want to be able to connect with your characters. We want to be able to feel with them. We want to relate to their problems and to me, their problems need to be realistic to the age group. Obviously, I don’t want a teen dealing with adult issues or an adult becoming incapacitated by something I feel is high school appropriate.
Having just gone through a divorce, I found myself into the romance genre and it’s not hard to see why. As my life was falling apart, I wanted nothing more than to feel like love existed in this world. I feel in love with some great characters during the two years of my bitter divorce. Kelsie Rae, Kristen Granata, and Sarah Sutton are a few indie authors I’ve found in the genre and I have no complaints on the characters they’ve molded.
So how do we craft characters like this? For my fantasy trilogy, I started with notecards, believe it or not, and I jotted down the specs for each of my main and secondary characters as well as my reoccurring or notable characters. I’ve come a long way since then but since it was fantasy and required an extensive amount of world building I needed a better way to organize it all so I actually jumped on amazon and ended up finding The Only Character Workbook You’ll Ever Need, created by T.M. Holladay. It is AWESOME. It had more than I needed but I still think he thought of it all.
I feel it’s important to know the little details about your characters because even though it doesn’t make it into the book or project you’re working on, it comes out naturally in other areas. Traits make their way through in the mannerisms, the way they handle themselves, or the way in which they interact with others. Practice writing prompts putting your characters in situations or scenes where they wouldn’t normally be found and learn about them. I find that regardless of what person I write in, writing the prompts in first person helps for me to get into the head of my characters and refine the traits that make them who they are.
Same thing applies to all your characters. Don’t spend so much time taking care of your protagonists that you forget the other characters in your stories.
How do you craft your characters? What is your process? Most of my characters appear to me in dreams. In fact, a lot of my story ideas also come to me in the same manner.
Characters really are vital building blocks to a story. Don’t downgrade your work of art by having a group of less than worthy characters.