Toothless Letter CWhat is a book without characters? You can have a fantastic setting, a great story arc, but without believable characters, there is nothing to wrap the story around, and it will fall flat on it’s butt.

So what makes a character? Believability mostly. Characters can be hated, they can be jerks, they can be kind, or lovable, that doesn’t matter, what they do have to be, is realistic.

So what makes a character realistic? That’s a tad harder. It’s all about making them a rounded character. yes, they’ll have a backstory, physical appearance and all those other facts, but they need more than that. They need motivations. Why do they do the things that they do. For instance, you have a thief. If all you do is have him steal things, then that’s a one dimensional, so look at why he steals. Does he have a starving family he needs to feed (cliche, but it is a reason)? does he need the money to take a boat and escape to a new country? Is he in over his head with the wrong people? Does he like stealing for the money, and sleep on a bed of gold like a dragon? As soon as you give him a reason for stealing, he becomes a little more like a person.

Hopes, dreams and goals are good for this as well. Is his goal to leave the country, a fresh start somewhere new? Does he want to win the heart of another, and needs to steal to get money to show them a good time? Is his dream to fill a room full of gold and sleep inside it? Smaug did, that was his goal, so he went and killed a mountain full of dwarves to do it. Everyone has something they are working for, especially characters in a story. There is much of a story without a goal at the end, but is the goal for the story the same as the character’s goal?

Character Cast Wallpaper

Characters will have skills, like, dislikes, things they are good at, things they are bad at, experiences, and different world views. Not everyone is perfect, and we certainly aren’t the same.

Talking about perfect characters, the one thing that you do not want to have is a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu). A Mary Sue is an idealised character that is good at every, bad at nothing, and everything is perfect for them.

You know what perfect is? Boring.

There’s a wonderful test here that I use for my character to test their Mary Sue-ness. Not because I’m in the habit of making them, but it also helps you identify any cliches or tropes that you might be hitting. Quite a few of my character hit one or two, and that’s okay. It’s when you start hitting half or more than you really have a problem.

But back to real characters. As an author, you develop your characters, and you will know everything about them. You will know where they are born, what they look like, where they grew up, their hopes and dreams, likes, dislikes, childhood, key events, experiences, and all the rest of it. However, the reader doesn’t, and probably won’t get all the information. And that’s good. You as the author need to know all this stuff to make your character a rounded person, the reader only needs to know what is pertinent to the plot.

Example. In the novel I’m currently editing, Mechanica Awakening, the main character, Rose, her favourite breakfast is Eggs Benedict. But that never gets mentioned. Why? Because it’s not important. The reader needs to hear the conversation that happens at breakfast, not about what she has for breakfast that day. I know, because it helps me nail down her character, the reader, they don’t need to know because it adds nothing to the story.

character-bio-sheets-poewar-23150364Something that does help, especially with consistency (shifting eye colour mid way through the story is never a good idea unless they actually have due to weird sci fi experiments or magical accidents) is to have a character bible. It’s basically where you write down everything about the character, from physical descriptions to motivations, key events, and personality. As a pantser, I don’t write this before I start. I have it open at the same time. Whenever I introduce a new character, I get a blank page, put their name at the top, and then write down what I know about them. This way, as I pants through the story and new things develop, I add to the page for that character as I discover things, and then I can go back during edits and add bits in earlier if I need to, make sure everything is consistent, and grow the character that way.

Of course, getting this characterisation across to readers is also tricky. It’s the whole show, don’t tell thing again, which is pretty much a golden rule of writing if golden rules of writing actually existing. you bring the characteristics of your character to life through dialogue, actions and thoughts.  You don’t tell people ‘this person is a wallflower’ and ‘this one is a social butterfly’, as a writer you show the wallflower standing at the edge of the room, crossed arms, saying very little and looking at her feet. The social butterfly is talking at a hundred miles an hour, flitting around the centre of the room, hugging everyone.  Much more engaging for the reader.

And there you have C, my very short guide to characters. There are a huge amount of resources out there about characters and character development, as it is one of the most important things a book has, so do take a look and see what you can find. And remember to practice. There is no substitute for practice and hard work.

Hope you’re having as much fun with the A to Z as I am!