Whether a story is plot-driven, or character-driven, so much of its success hinges on the development of the characters. Make the hero too flawed and he’s unlikable. Make him too perfect and he isn’t believable. If the reader doesn’t understand the motivation for a character’s actions, he falls completely flat. Any of which will cause the reader to walk away.
Memorable, engaging characters feel real, like people we’ve known. As humans, we have many layers and facets. We have hang-ups, secrets, phobias and bad habits. Our characters should possess them, too. Each characteristic is part of the intricate puzzle that forms a solid, believable character. Such characters enrich our stories.
Vibrant, well-rounded characters have a history. Past experiences inform their self-belief, motivation and views about the world. When we have intimate knowledge of our characters it becomes much easier to relate their story in a way that feels truly authentic to readers.
Get to Know Your Characters
Go beyond surface information like age and hair and eye color. Really get to know your character. Ask her probing questions like:
- What is her earliest memory?
- Who was her first kiss?
- What is her deepest secret?
- What does she want more than anything, in her heart of hearts?
- What is her biggest fear?
- What is she most ashamed of?
- What is her proudest moment?
- What are her bad habits?
The majority of this information won’t be used in your story; so why is it important? An in-depth character questionnaire (like this one on Epiguide.com) allows us to unlock the mystery of that character. Who she really is and what she wants more than anything in the world. What motivates her and why. The lengths she’ll go to achieve her goal or to prevent a repeat of past pain.
What if you don’t know enough about the character to complete such a detailed questionnaire? Here are two options.
Write Your Way into the Character
Before I can complete an in-depth character questionnaire, I usually need to write a little bit of the story. Once I get to know the character, a pattern of behavior emerges. Then I work backward. Why does the character behave this way? Why would she say that? What past experience would cause her to believe a certain thing about herself? I’m always surprised by the answers I get and how they help shape the character. However, there is a simpler, more powerful way to create a fully-formed character with believable strengths and flaws.
Create a Personality Profile
A few years ago I attended a workshop given by the phenomenal Cherry Adair. She suggested giving characters a birthdate, then researching their astrological sign.
I’m not a person who checks my astrological chart or could even tell you much about the supposed traits of my sign (Pisces). However, the first time I used this trick to create a detailed personality chart for my characters I knew I’d struck gold. There are a number of resources available, but I prefer to use the Zodiac Sign Profiles at Horoscope.com. There are comprehensive profiles for each birth sign. Each profile includes a personality overview, character strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes and ideal environments. You’ll also get an overview of how a character born under that sign would behave in the areas of love and sex, friends and family and career and money.
Print out your character’s zodiac sign profile. Highlight sections that you’d like to use. You now have a solid basis for creating a well-rounded character with believable strengths and flaws. Use this knowledge to go back and complete the detailed character questionnaire.
You may be tempted to bypass this step because it can be a lengthy, detailed process. However, without this level of awareness, our characters fall flat, and so does our story.
Intimate, detailed knowledge of a character makes it easy for us to know what he would do in a given situation. A sense of the character’s background and motivation makes his actions feel more authentic to readers. The end result is a richer, more engaging story.
Bio: Reese Ryan writes sexy, contemporary fiction filled with colorful characters and sinfully-sweet romance. She secretly enjoys torturing her heroines with family and career drama, reformed bad boys, revealed secrets, and the occasional identity crisis, but always rewards them with a happily ever after.
Born and raised in the Midwest, she now resides in Central North Carolina with her husband and young adult son who tolerate her propensity to sing and dance badly. A self-proclaimed Bohemian Southern Belle, she treads the line carefully between being a Northerner and a damned Yankee–despite her insistence on calling soda pop. Reese gauges her progress by the number of “bless your lil’ hearts” she gets each week. She is currently down to two.
- Make Your Story Richer with In-depth Knowledge of Your Characters by Reese Ryan
- Weekly Lecture Schedule December 23-28
- The Primary Purpose of Secondary Characters by Reese Ryan
- Weekly Lecture Schedule – July 22nd to July 26th
- The 3 Essential Elements to Creating a Believable Romance – C. S. Lakin