If you ask any author, what is their favorite part of writing, you will get various answers but the dominant one will be characters. The reason behind this is that writers become emotionally attached to their characters. It is the job of a writer to bring their stories to life, therefore the characters need to be not only realistic to the reader, but real to the author.
Characters are one of the essential elements of any story and can either be the killpoint, or they can be the driving force. However, characters are, or should be a writer’s favorite part of writing.
Why is the title so big?! Because it is so important!
If you don’t devote time to your characters, neither will the reader.
A poorly written character can kill a story faster than almost anything else. There are no shortcuts to writing a character well, but if done by the right process and pattern, the backend work is drastically lessened.
How do you build characters?
You can’t build a character that already exists!
I’m not talking about writing a character that someone else has already created. You can do that, it’s called stealing, or at best laziness. I’m talking about taking a character from your story idea and trying to recreate it, (essentially stealing from yourself), rather than taking a character you have created and building a story with them.
It’s not easy building a character and yet it’s the simplest thing in the world. Characters are a part of every writer. A piece of the writer becomes the characters, and to an extent the more liberty you take with those characters, and the longer you spend writing them into stories and developing them, a piece of them will become part of you as well.
Some of my favorite characters to work with, and my most well developed characters I have worked with for over six years.
It takes at least several months to turn a concept of a character into a fully fleshed-out, ready for story character. You can’t expect an idea to suddenly spring into a character and that character become something amazing in a short period of time.
Think of a character as an actual human being with a highly accelerated growth rate. When a character is born, obviously you don’t create a character from infancy literally speaking, yet figuratively speaking you do. If your character is a 22-year-old male assassin in your story, it won’t take you 22 years to grow him into a full character. However, it will take you a significant amount of time to compose him into the character he needs to be: create his backstory, configure the logistics for his personality and attributes, and find a logical path of his story from BS to where you want to take it.
Why to make a character?
* To fill a gap in your story
* To move the story
* To fulfill a theme
* To illustrate a point
Obviously, for your main characters there will be a significant gap in your story because there won’t be anything on which to base the story. Everything else needs to center around pushing that main character to the end goal of the story.
In fiction and in fantasy realms allegory and impressionism are staples and often specific characters will embody an idea or most commonly a characteristic as in “Pilgrim’s Progress”.
Don’t move too fast!
This is a slow cruise through a 5 mph speed zone, not a hot rod 80 mph down the freeway. In direct proportion to how important it is to take your time building characters, you need to take your time orchestrating a story around them.
Consider the sun to be your main character, the story and all the other planets (characters), revolve around the sun. If they all spun uncontrollably and fast, none of the planets would benefit by the sun’s heat, therefore the sun would not have a purpose. It’s vital to bring every element together to drive your reader to the message, the result of you writing a story.
Does your character have a message?
Sometimes, far too often Christian writers feel the need to have their main character represent their reader and target audience. Thus when the character encounters something it should relate to them and with them. The goal is that the character learns the lesson and thus, the reader does also.
But true art, true literature is the story teaching the lesson and the character responding as he/she would. Character integrity is when your players in a story are who they are regardless of what the story needs them to be. If a character becomes so lifelike that you won’t exert your will over their history to work them into a situation they wouldn’t be in had they been given a choice, that’s when you’ve got a magical character. If it’s real to you, it will be real to everyone who reads it.
Thus, selecting your characters and building them with purpose and a message self-contained is the only real way to orchestrate an amazing story.
As always, thanks for reading.
–the anonymous novelist