Hello and welcome everyone to lesson 3 of Writing 101. Today’s topic is one of the most vital elements of your piece: character. Your character is the driving force of your piece. They can make or break your piece. They make readers continue reading because they care what happens to them. So with further ado, let’s get started on character …
- Know Your Characters Very Well
In order to make your characters rounded and believable, the first step is to know them inside out. You need to know so much more about them then you’ll ever probably put into your piece. Some writers use character profiles, some use notes, some do spider diagrams with their character’s name in the middle while others think their characters out in their head. Whatever way you do it, you need to have a huge knowledge of them. Some basic things you need to know include their name, gender, age, class, nationality, race, sexuality, religion or lack of, job or lack of, political beliefs, beliefs about life, whether they are conformist or not, are they introverts, extroverts or somewhere in the middle, how they dress, how they perceive others and how others perceive them. When you have knowledge like this about your character down, you will know how they will react easily in numerous situations as your plot develops. So get to know your characters very well. Know what they have for breakfast, where they shop, what they spend their money on, what their relationships are like with other characters like their love interest, family, friends and enemies. Make your character your best friend while your are writing them.
2. What Makes Interesting Characters?
Interesting characters are real. Often it is difficult to identify with or relate to characters who are too perfect. Examples that spring to mind are in many romances the main character is sweet as sugar while their love interest is simply awful and then they end up with another character who is as sweet as sugar. Another example is the war hero who is brave and unselfishly fights for their country and is without any negative qualities. While a final example is the detective in mysteries who is proper and brave and puts the baddies in their place but has no negative qualities themselves. None of these types of characters are easy for readers to identify with or relate to. In all honesty if readers took them to heart they would feel quite inadequate. Because in reality most of us are not either perfect or completely imperfect. So the same rule applies to villains. Even villains need to have positive qualities. They might be awful in most aspects but do they love their other half and their family for instance? Your characters, in short, need to be as real and as complex as any human being is.
3. What About Stereotyping?
It’s a bit of a complex answer so let’s try to break it down. As a writer, you have a duty to represent people from all walks of life and backgrounds and also of all personalities. In real life there is people whose personalities conform to stereotypes and whose personalities don’t. For example some gay men are camp while other gay men aren’t but likewise some straight men are camp while others aren’t. You shouldn’t use a stereotype out of ignorance but if it fits your character you can have their personality happen to fit a stereotype or also not fit a stereotype. But it should never be used in a cliched and one-dimensional way. The bottom line is that everything about your character should fit them and they should be well rounded.
4. Should I Tell My Piece From My Character’s POV Or In Third Person?
There is advantages to both. When you tell it from your character’s POV you have more opportunity to incorporate more of who they are into the story and get readers to identify and relate more to them. But it can also limit you. On the other hand, from a third person perspective you have more opportunity to write about what happens in situations with different characters where your main character is not present. Another option is to write from the POV of more than one character which helps you to cover both things. But you must know each character very well. It might be confusing for many readers though as it jumps from one POV to the other. So that’s the downside of that technique but it has many advantages too.
5. Secondary Characters Are Just There For Decoration, Right?
No, they are very vital. Every character must feel authentic and must have a purpose for being there. Especially your main secondary characters. Say, you have a love interest in a story. They can’t just be there to help a reader know how your main character feels about love and life. You need to show how they feel about things as well. Likewise in a mystery as well as why the detective wants to solve the crime you need to show why the killer felt they needed to commit the crime. Every character must be fully rounded and we must know both their inner and outer worlds.
Key Points Summary
- Your character is the driving force of your piece and they can make or break it.
- You need to have a huge knowledge of your characters. You need to know more about them then you’ll ever put into your piece of work. That way, no situation they face as the plot develops will be a problem for you. You’ll know easily how they’ll react and feel in each situation that happens.
- Interesting characters are real. They should never be too perfect or too imperfect.
- You should never stereotype but if a stereotype fits your character’s personality it is alright for them to happen to fit the stereotype. But the character should never be written in a one-dimensional or cliched way.
- There is advantages and disadvantages to telling your story from your character’s POV as well as from the third person perspective. There is also advantages and disadvantages to telling your story from the POV of more than one character. The best way is the way that brings your story to life the best.
- Secondary characters are vital. They must be as rounded and complex as your main character. Readers must know how they feel about life as well.