Remember that your reader invests time and money into your story and it is important that your characters capture your reader’s attention, so that they will want to spend more time getting to know them. If the reader does not develop an interest or connection with the main characters from the beginning, chances are they will not feel compelled to finish reading your characters’ story. One of the best ways to make sure this does not happen is to make sure you develop plausible, complex characters. This is crucial to successful storytelling.
Your Main Characters
These characters are normally the people you introduce in the opening chapters of your story. Remember that your main characters must appear throughout the entire story. It is a good idea to do a “Character Profile” for each of your main characters which will cut out a lot of confusion when you are working on your story itself.
It is hard to remember everything that you have said about a character so building a character profile will eliminate any embarrassing errors (ie Mary had blond hair at the beginning of the a chapter but somehow ended up with auburn hair near the end).
Some people just work out the very basics such as how old they are and what colour hair they have. Are they tall, short? Can they be based on someone you know? And, naturally, what are their names? That sort of thing.
Others prefer to go to a lot of trouble and prepare cards with the necessary information written on them, or start data bases on their computers and some go as far as filling out large questionnaires.
It really depends on how complex your characters are but here’s a list of some of the questions you could be asking yourself:
- Character’s Name
- Height and Build (example, 5″2′, petite slender build)
- Religion or other beliefs
- Hair Colour
- Eye Colour
- Does the character wear glasses or contacts?
- Does the character have any health problems? (If so, explain)
- Shape of face
- Any distinguishing marks or scars?
- Type of personality
- Marital status
- Does character have a current love interest?
- If so, what is that person’s name & how long have they been together?
- How did they meet?
- Any children (If they do have children, list their names & ages)
- Mother’s Name
- Father’s Name
- Who raised the character as a child?
- What was their childhood like? (Happy, tragic, lonely, etc)
- Does the character have any brothers and sisters? (If yes, list their names and ages)
- Where were they born?
- Where are they living now?
- Any bad habits? If so, what?
- Character’s Best Friend(s)
- Any enemies. Why?
I’m sure you could think of several others too.
When developing your characters, keep the following in mind:
- Solid Background. Give the character a history. Describe their home, possessions, medical histories, tastes in furniture, political opinions.
- Speech. The way your character speaks (both content and manner) also portrays their personality: are they shy and reticent, aggressive and frank, coy or humorous.
- Behaviour. Always be consistent with the way your character acts. It’s all right for the character to grow throughout the story but you should never swap between two sets of behaviour as this confuses the reader and your character becomes less real.
- Motivation. The characters should have good and sufficient reasons for their actions, and should carry those actions out with plausible skills. If we don’t believe characters would do what the author tells us they do, the story fails.
- Change. As the story progresses your characters should respond to their experiences they are having by changing–or by working hard to avoid changing. It is only natural that the more we experience the more we grow and your characters are no different. If a character seems the same at the end of a story as at the beginning, the reader should know why the character didn’t change.
Your Other Characters
Think of the “Other Characters” like you would “extras” used in a movie. “Other Characters” should be used to advance your story, to teach your main character an important lesson, and/or give them information needed in order to advance your plot line. Although it is generally good to know a few facts about these characters, as it makes the storyline more realistic, normally a full character profile is not necessary. Often, these characters will not even have a name.
Choosing the Right Name
When selecting a name for your character, there are a couple of things that you should consider:
- Personality – Consider the personality of your character’s parents; and the personality of the character you are trying to portray.
- First Impression – Often your character’s name will portray an image to your reader. For example, if you are creating a story about a twenty-year-old heroine you may want to consider a name that was fashionable twenty-years-ago, not a more old-fashioned name such as Ethel, Bertha, Mabel, etc. Remember that there are exceptions to the rule as your character may have been named after a great grandparent, an aunt or uncle.
- Era – Different names range in popularity in different time periods. For example, if your story was set in a fictional western frontier in the 1800’s you may not want to name your herione Skye or Summer. Although these are lovely names; and popular today, the names were not at the height of their popularity during the 1800’s. Names such as Mary, Elizabeth, Eleanor, etc would be more appropriate. A great way to find out what was popular during a specific time period is to consult old census reports, history books, or even to read novels written or set up in that particular time period.
Here are some places you can look to find names:
- Baby Name Books
- Census Reports
- History Books
- Telephone Books
- Character Naming Sourcebooks (can be ordered from book clubs or found at local bookstores)
- The Bible
- Old Family Records
- Soap Operas/Movies/TV
- Library Books
However you decide to name your character and whatever you decide to name them, be sure to remember that the name you choose will convey an image of your character’s appearance to the reader.
Finally, enjoy creating your characters. You’ll be surprised how quickly they become part of you.