Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to Effectively Build Characters

Your characters are the most important part of your story - yes, even more important than the plot!

You can still create a well-written, meaningful piece of fiction without a large and complex narrative, but you can't have a good story without well-built and realistic characters to drive it. The people in your story must be multi dimensional, have their own unique histories and interests, make mistakes and most importantly, appear to be just like somebody you could meet in real life. Here are some tips on how to make your characters as believable as possible.

Watch and understand people

Observe, always observe
In order to build well-rounded characters, you must have a good understanding of human nature and what drives people to do the things they do. Go to the park and and 'people-watch.' Study how they interact. Pick up on their little quirks, listen to the funny things they say. Pick fragments of them, and of people you know; you can mix them up and put them all together to create a character.

It is not always necessary for your characters to be likeable

Obviously this goes without saying if your character is a serial killer or similar, but even if not, remember your main character doesn't always have to be likeable, nor do they always have to do the right thing. We meet people we dislike all the time in everyday life. We are all human and make mistakes, and it is good to reflect this in your writing. Stories with an unlikeable protagonist(s) can sometimes provide a more interesting narrative, and give the reader a thought-provoking experience.

Know your characters

Write extensively, for your own use, about your characters history, their best and worst traits, even little things that might seem silly - their favourite foods, for example! Create this, memorise it, get to know your characters and let this knowledge drive you as you lead them through the story. You don't have to share the small details, or even their history if you don't want to - how much you tell your reader about them is up to you, and sometimes it can be more effective to keep details about the character secret. Know your characters inside out and let that knowledge drive them.

Keep that eye open!

This is so important. It's not just the plot that needs research behind it to look authentic; your characters need it too. If one of your characters has an illness you know nothing about, read up on it! Find stories of personal experience to help you add that personal touch. Get that authenticity.

Understand how your characters relate to one another

In real life, even the best of friends do not get along all the time. Not everybody likes everything about everyone and people have different opinions. Let this feed into your interactions between characters, their conversations, and the ways in which they relate to one another; it will make for more effective, realistic seeming characters.

About the writer

This great advice was written by one of our authors, Stephanie-Louise Farrell, who, like me, is a keen advocate of observing people and using that experience in her writing. She's put together an excellent collection of her short stories called 'Haunted - Four Tales Of Obsession And Horror' which, as you can see from her reviews, have been very well received. The anthology's definitely a walk on the dark side and is extremely well written - I can definitely recommend it. She's currently working on her next book and I hope that us here at ASB will be handling its publication.

1 comment:

  1. I've been to a number of conferences over the last few years and have heard agents and editors state, on a number of occasions, that they don't much care about the plot, only the characters. So, in a practical sense, the characters really are more important than plot. I do, however, feel that choosing which stories to publish based on characters is why we have the Twilight phenomenon.