One of the most challenging things to do when beginning a novel project is the creating of your main character.
Actually, the creation of all of your main-line characters should be done with care, but the “lead” in your story needs… no, demands a high level of care and detail.
First, about your characters in general. They need to be believable, they need to seem to be people you could meet at any time in any place. This is essential. You might have the best story line ever, with well-scripted plot turns, perfect foreshadowing, and excellent craft in general, but if your characters are flat, if your reader cannot tell one character from the next, your reader just won’t care about the novel.
There are any number of lists out there, each purporting to be the ultimate character creation schema. Some of them are pretty good, but most are so complex, so long, that the process becomes more daunting than helpful. Do you really need to know your character’s mother’s favorite color? Hmmm… actually, you might. But I don’t think you need to plan that deeply when you are starting out.
I do think that each character needs his or her own fact sheet.
So, what do you need to know about your character?
- You do not need to start with a name. In fact some writers on character creation go so far as to say you should NOT start with a name. Why? Because we are evidence gatherers, and we are likely to imprint a new character with all of the foibles of somebody else who shares the name. Let the name come in time.
- You do not need to know exactly what your character looks like—unless his or her appearance is cemented to the character—Quasimodo, for example, needed to be a hunchback.
- You do need to know what drives your character. What is it that your character is driven to achieve? What does he or she want? MAKE NO MISTAKE, this is one of the most essential “needs” when building a new character. In fact, this is the one thing that you should not neglect no matter what level every character may have in the story. Even the walk-ons need to have a reason for being, and that reason is to accomplish or to obtain something.
- You do NOT need facial tics, odd habits, phrases that are repeated to form your character. It is OK for a character—typically a second or third-level person, to have the odd behavioral habit, but consider keeping your main person free from such distractions.
- Making a character likable is a real challenge. This is where study comes in. Look around you. Look back into your own history. Who were the people that you just plain felt good being around? Can you distill some of the things they said and did? Can you find a way to incorporate those traits into your character? Keep in mind that the likableness of a character is more than just the way they think or act, but it has a lot to do with how you have the other characters in the story react to him or her.
- Your character will “show up” in his or her speech. Will the character be a quick-thinking action-oriented person who speaks in one to two-syllable words, with short sentences and paragraphs? Or will the character be of a poetic bent, speaking in a flowery way?
- Earlier I said that every character needs to want something. A good character may also want to avoid something. What would that be?
These few ideas may help get the character creation process rolling. If you look around on the Internet for “fiction character creation” you will find no end of advice. In the end, however, the process belongs only to you. You may be at odds with what I say here, you may disagree with everyone on the net, but if your character lives, breathes, and gets the job done, it won’t matter.
Lastly, DO have fun creating your characters. Be sure to know more about him or her than you ever tell your reader. Having a bigger picture than you actually use is an excellent way to create a character that seems life-like.