Creating characters that resonate with a reader is a critical element of a successful novel. The process refers to the way an author creates and develops characters throughout a story. These characters need to be believable to the reader. Well-crafted characters elevate your story from good to great while poorly developed or one-dimensional characters can detract, even from a novel with a spectacular plot.
Here are five things to keep in mind to help bring your characters to life:
The first step in creating a well-rounded character is to provide them with a clear motivation. What drives them? What are their goals and desires and what motivates them to take action? Readers need to understand why a character makes certain choices in order to fully engage with the story. These motivations may shift as the protagonist’s (or the antagonist or lesser players in the plot) encounter obstacles, but a clear starting point is essential to your character’s development.
Any character that is too perfect can be boring and come across as one-dimensional or as a stereotype. Readers want to see some realistic flaws and weaknesses, this makes the characters human. Flaws also help with developing the overall arc of a character–overcoming challenges and becoming in some way stronger throughout the plot. The key is to strike a balance, giving characters flaws that don’t detract from their overall likeability.
It is important to allow your characters to evolve over the course of the story. A protagonist needs to start at one place at the beginning of the story and emerge at a different level. Think of some of the characters in your favourite novels–what was their quest? In the end, the quest was a vehicle for learning valuable lessons and ultimately becoming a better person, after the struggle is finished. Mapping out your character’s arc will help guide your writing and create a more dynamic and engaging subject.
A character’s backstory is essential for providing context and depth. The backstory will help explain their motivations and behaviours and reveal how they will react in certain situations. While not all of the backstory may be revealed in the book, you, as the author, will need to understand it completely. Create separate outlines for each character–sometimes as developed as to what their shoe size is, to where they shop for their clothes and groceries. Think of the backstory as an iceberg–perhaps only the top third will be revealed throughout the novel but you, the author, will have a complete understanding of the entirety of the character.
A character’s voice is an important part of making them feel real. This deals with not only the way they speak but their thought patterns and personality. We have looked at some memorable voices in previous blogs and can see that characters with distinct voices are more memorable and engaging. Each character must sound and act like an individual and it’s important to keep each voice unique.
While establishing a strong plot is the base of a solid novel, memorable characters can make the plot unforgettable. If you’d like feedback on your characters, consider one of our consulting services–we’d love to help you!