Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
You would think that creating characters would be an easy task, but have you ever heard another writer complain, “My character isn’t doing what I want, that bastard”? I promise those writers aren’t crazy or secretly writing about their multiple personalities, though sometimes, as the author, it might feel like it. Characters take on a life of their own once they’re created, so before they get out of hand, you need to know the basics about them for when they try to get too crazy and give you a double bird while yelling, “You’re not my real mom!”
The kinds of characters
I don’t want to overload you with too much information here, but if you want more than a basic definition, you can head over to our blog series here, where we talk about the types of characters and their roles in more detail.
Protagonist: This is the character who drives the story; their actions form the major turning points. You cannot have a story without one.
Antagonist: Like the protagonist, the antagonist is necessary to the story and is the main force opposing the protagonist.
Main Character: This is a character who provides a point of view; they might be the protagonist, and they might not be.
Deuteragonist: This character is similar but secondary to the protagonist. At major turning points of the story, their actions will usually follow the protagonist’s.
Hero or Heroine: These can be main characters, but a more useful definition is its primary one: someone admirable, noble, and courageous who achieves great feats or is endowed with great abilities.
Villain: The villains commit evil or have evil motives. Similar to the relationship between protagonists and main characters, villains and antagonists often overlap but are separate roles.
Secondary Characters: These characters are important support for the protagonist, antagonist, deuteragonist, and/or main characters.
Tertiary Characters: Their roles are even smaller than secondary characters’. They perform important roles for a scene or two and may even have names but quickly disappear.
Background Characters: These are characters are more like props than actual characters; background characters exist to populate the world of the story.
There are a lot of things to keep track of with your character; where they’re from, what their names are, nicknames, personality type, positive traits, negative traits, looks, where they’re from, what book they show up in, their occupation, if they have a title, and the list goes on and on and on.
We would highly recommend having a spreadsheet for keeping all of this information straight and consistent throughout your book(s).
For this blog, I just want to give two examples of how to craft your characters with looks and personality; otherwise, I’ll be writing you a book you didn’t ask for.
This sounds like it would be pretty self-explanatory, but if you don’t know what your characters look like, neither do your readers. Your character’s looks will also affect how everyone else in the book responds to them, much in the same way as the real world. If you’re going to give your main character green eyes in a brown-eyed world, they’re going to be unique and treated either as a wonder or an oddity. And this can also change the way a character interacts with themselves. For example, in Ambrosia by Madison Wheatley, her main character is overweight, and her struggle is accepting herself on her journey to get healthier.
Also, depending on how many years your story takes place over, you’re going to need to think about how your characters age. Does your female MC spot a couple of wrinkles? Is there a touch of gray in your silver fox’s male MC’s hair?
Like your character’s looks, their personalities will also affect the plot and how people interact with them. We have all seen the character who struggles with a bad attitude, and no one wants to interact with him, except for the one friend who has seen his teddy bear interior. Maybe this character is the protagonist, and he has to learn how to not push everyone away so that after that zombie invasion, he can save the world.
Knowing what kind of personality your character has will not only allow your reader to celebrate any growth in the character, but it will also alert them to whether or not they’re acting out of character.
How your characters interact with each other
I’ve touched on this a little bit, but I did want to cover it again. How your main characters and secondary characters interact with each other is essential to how your story flows. I don’t just mean do they get along or not, but this includes what interpersonal relationships your characters have with each other.
Are they a mother and daughter who fight all the time? Maybe they’re brother and sister and best buds for life. Do you have brothers who are mortal enemies battling it out for the control of a kingdom?
Last, but certainly not least, I want to talk about your character’s motivation. What drives them to make the choices that they make? If your character doesn’t have a motivation, your story will either not make sense or lack depth.
What I mean here is that your characters can’t just be dragged along in the story. They aren’t the five-year-olds whose parents tell them they’re coming because they said so. They have to affect the story, even if that means writing characters who are totally opposite of something you would normally do, say, or think.
Join us next week for our monthly series on misused writing advice, where we talk about the rule of show, don’t tell.
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