I’ve had people ask me (and wondered myself) what the most important aspect is in creating a book. The obvious answer is good writing and a good story. But if you go deeper than that, what creates a good story? A great idea scribbled down on paper? No, it’s the characters that create and mold the story. You can have the most impossible things happening left and right but if your characters are interesting and real, the reader will keep reading. Same goes the other way around; you can have the best plot and best ideas but if your characters are flat and boring, your reader won’t get far. Characters are important.
A common mistake I see (and have done myself) when creating characters, is overgeneralization. Someone might say, “My character is a brown haired girl with glasses, who’s shy and likes to read.” That’s a good start, but there are a million people in the world that fit that definition exactly. A character (a person) is not made up of large things, but little things. Maybe your character loves gummy bears, sings old opera tunes, likes to paint her fingernails blue, and hums to herself when she’s nervous. How does she talk? Does she have a religion? Who is the one person she loves the most? What is her one goal or dream? Giving your character quirky and sometimes identifiable traits brings them to life, and you create not a flat character, but a real one.
And remember, this goes for every character, not just your main one. Don’t forget your supporting characters and certainly don’t forget your villain. Your villain needs to be just as (if not more) interesting and deep as your main character. Also, be careful to make your ‘friend character(s)’ a real person. I’m incredibly guilty of creating a nice, sunny, perfect friend character who gives constant moral support to my main character and I’ve forgotten about her. It’s terrible to realize you’ve done this after the book (or series!) is written and have to go back flesh out your character during the editing process.
Another thing that I find helps me create real characters is not outline their every aspect before I write the book. Obviously, this is different for all authors, but I like to write the character and see how it goes. Of course, I have an idea of who the character is; bad guy, good guy, friend, enemy. But who the person is? Who they really are; their habits, quirks and personality? I have no idea until I start to write them. They’re their own person and it’s up to me to start writing and figure out who they are; to get to know them in a way. This way, my story unfolds and my characters step in to fill the gaps when needed.
For instance, in almost every story I’ve come across, there is always one character that knows everything, and needs to know everything for the story to continue. A tool the author uses to quickly get the information to the main character and the reader without wasting valuable plot time. For example, Hermione in Harry Potter. If Harry ever had a problem or question needing to be answered, he could always count on Hermione to know, or at least be able to find out. For me, this important character is never predetermined. Instead, they fall into place and therefore fit perfectly because they know that’s exactly where they need to be.
In other words, what I’m trying to say is don’t smother your characters with ideas about who they need to be. Step back and let them figure it out for themselves while giving them small traits that make them whole. Part of you will shine through them and make them more real and more identifiable. Writing is an art, not a science, so let it flow and do its thing without nitpicking every detail.
Thanks for reading!