Today’s Top Tips will be focusing on the art of character creation and development. Characters are the heart of any story, and the stronger the heart, the stronger the body, so we writers need to make sure we keep our characters in shape. There are many different ways to develop characters, and writers – as the free spirited and creative souls we are – tend to find our own way when it comes to rules and guidelines. But one of the best ways to develop your craft, whatever craft that may be, is to learn from many different people, and collect habits you like, so you can use them to your advantage. Today I’m going to list a few of my writing habits and guidelines so that you can collect the ones that work for you and use them to improve your own characters and story worlds.
Here are my top tips for character creation:
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One of the most useful ideas that I put to use in character creation is the use of music to paint a more concrete image of a character in my head. Music has a profound effect on the way the listener feels and the images that are invoked inside their mind’s eye. A dark, slow ballad is going to invoke a much different feeling than a bright, energetic pop song. These emotional qualities affect the selection of music listeners that gravitate toward each song. Of course, there are people who listen to varying types of music, enjoying wide varieties of songs and artists, regardless of genre and sound. However, in most cases, the songs a person decides to listen to on a daily basis are impacted by their mood; which is why selecting music you think your character would listen to will help you to create an in-depth vision of their personality and moods.
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My process of character creation involves a lot of visualization because I am a very visual person. I find it very helpful to have a complete picture inside my head of my character’s appearance, way of dress, manner of movements, facial expressions, and anything that can help create a three dimensional image of them. One of the things that helps me to achieve this image is pictures; pictures of people who resemble my character and their mannerisms, pictures of clothing they would wear, pictures of homes they might like to live in; because as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and having pictures can help to fill in fuzzy or missing details about your character.
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Another helpful bit of character creation theory that can really help to create dimensional characters is recording facts about their personality, lifestyle, appearance, history, habits, and all details of their personal lives. Something that can help you with this process – which can get lengthy, especially when it comes to main characters – is a character sheet. A character sheet is a table that is laid out with questions about your character that you can fill in to create a template for their personality. This can include as little or as much information as you deem necessary, but the more detailed it is the more effective it will be. (Here is a link to a detailed character sheet that I have been using for my own character creation, it has been invaluable. [Link]) Beside that, there is also the idea of creating 5 – 10 Character Facts to Expand On. I like to list these facts at the end of my character sheet, as a place to put all the facts together and create concrete ideas that I can build from when writing my manuscript. These can be facts about their personal beliefs, daily habits, hobbies, interests, career path, or any facts that you feel are important pieces of character information.
Example Tip: “Ron was a practicing Christian for many years, going to church every Sunday and saying his prayers every single night since he was old enough to learn the words. But recently Ron has lapsed in his faith of the lord due to the loss of his wife and child in a tragic accident. He is on a mission to restore his faith and find peace with the Lord so he can start a process of healing from this terrible loss.”
Example Tip: “Moira loves to play the guitar and she is an incredibly talented musician. Last year she was offered a place in a very prestigious arts University, but was forced to turn it down. She thinks about this missed opportunity every day as she waits tables and pines for her lost potential.”
These facts can also be expanded and detailed as much as you deem necessary for the character you’re creating and their use within your story. But the more you detail and expand on their personal story – and the more characters that you expand on in this way – the less work you might have to attend to in revision if you discover that your supporting cast has become a little cardboard.
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The most important thing about creating characters that feel real is to remember how real people, not idealized people, behave. Real humans often have many good traits that make them likeable and that make you want to spend time with them. But you will never encounter someone who is 100% perfect, and even if a perfect person did exist, it would be infuriating to try and spend time with them. They would be so perfect it wouldn’t seem real, and you’d likely find yourself annoyed that they never make a mistake or have relatable experiences. So the conclusion we come to is that perfect human beings are neither likeable nor do they exist. This means that to create characters that are relatable, likeable, or real, we need to create characters that have flaws. The people who are the most impactful in reality are the people who have overcome adversity and been forever changed. We need to create characters that do the same thing - or at least try to do that, even if they do not succeed. This isn’t to say that every character must be sweet and likeable in order for us to want to spend time with them, but they do need to hold the attention of the reader for a reason. They need to have qualities that make the reader inclined to follow them, they need to make the reader curious about their story and the lessons their experiences have to offer. The best way to do that is to create characters that are flawed and human, and that embody something that other people find fascinating. It’s important to remember these things, especially when creating main characters, if you’re interested in creating characters that feel real when you’re reading them.
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Research is an important part of every storyteller’s journey toward expelling all the stories they have inside. One of the best research investments you can make on this journey is research that assists you in creating characters. Character creation is so vital when you’re telling a story, because the characters are conduits for your reader’s emotion. Without characters that effectively extract relatable emotion from your readers, you run the risk of the story falling flat for most people. One way to make a character relatable is to make them realistic. A great way to do that is to research the existing facts about human behavior, international customs, different lifestyles, and anything else that can add more layers of depth to your knowledge of human beings. The more knowledge you have about other people, different ways of thinking, different cultures and religions, spiritual beliefs, etc. The more effectively you can demonstrate different kinds of characters within your writing. Never underestimate the impact research has on creating a multi-dimensional story, because the more detail you can add to your world and your creations, the more effective it will be to your audience.
Character Creation Exercise:
Create 3 – 5 characters of random and varying origin. Create each one as if you mean to use them in a main character story arc and detail and flesh them out until you love the character you’ve created. Don’t concern yourself with what story you plan to place them in, just create the characters you love best with no restrictions. I challenge you to use some or all of the tips listed in this article; and if you use them, let me know how it worked for you and what you made of it.
As a writer, you know what works best for you when it comes to learning and creating, sometimes you just need to be reminded. Hopefully you found something here that was useful to you and reminded you of something you already knew about your writing process. The most important part of writing is that you love your story and your characters, and that you enjoy spending time with them. If you enjoy it, chances are someone else out there will enjoy it too, so keep on writing what you love and putting your heart into your words.
Don’t forget to comment down below any tips you have on creating multi-dimensional characters that feel as real to others as they do to you.
And as always – write on, Writers.
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