By Tim Hillebrant.
We’re writers. A lot of us, I’d even wager most of us, write stories. Which means we’re writing about characters within those stories. So, I decided to delve into that particular part of writing next.
The first thing I found is, this is by no means a single post topic. There is a ton of material out there covering characters, what they are, how to make them, write them, and have them work within your story. I decided therefore to keep this post to the basics. We’ll get into the other stuff later. Mostly because if I’m going to climb that mountain, I’m going to need a Sherpa Guide to make the journey. But we can at least make the ascent to base camp. Jackets on? Have your GORP handy? Great! Let’s go!
First question is also the one we should understand the most deeply. As defined by Wikipedia, a character is a person in a narrative work of art. For our purpose, that of writing characters in stories, we could also add, that it is the character who guides the reader through the story, helping us to understand the theme and the plot, and to also move the plot along.
What are the Character Types?
Again, keeping it basic, there are two basic types of character, round and flat. You could also approach it as three dimensional versus two dimensional.
A flat, or two dimensional, character is not very complicated. They don’t do a whole lot for the story, aren’t very deep or complex, and stay pretty static from the beginning of the story to the end.
A round, or three dimensional character is much more complex. They’re the ones who undergo a lot of changes throughout the story. They develop, progress, and have a lot of different dynamics working for and against them.
How are they created?
This is one area on character basics that really could be a lot more fleshed out in itself, but I’ll cover some highlights here.
The Magic Character, is one who, for all intents and purposes, pops into the author’s head fully realized, and then proceeds to dictate their story to that author, who simply just puts down what they’re told. An interesting example of this, pardon the pun, is Harry Potter. Rowling was on a train ride home when he popped into her head fully formed.
A Borrowed Character is one where their creation comes largely from borrowing traits and qualities from others, then using those borrowed things to form your character. Using another Harry Potter example- Rowling wrote a lot of herself into Hermione Granger, most of it being the character’s bookish traits, loyalty, and know-it-all personality type.
Lastly there is the Made-Up Character, which is in fact completely made up from beginning to end. Sometimes they might start as a minor character who, for whatever reason, is fleshed out, and begins to take more than just a minor role in the story. In my own work, Dreams Echo, the character Dean- Tommy’s soon to be brother in law- is a great example of this. He went from being just some guy who fit well into a few scenes into a character more developed, and the big brother figure Tommy looks up to.
Character Creation, Just A Bit More
Knowing the types of characters helps, but there’s more to creating them than that. Sometimes, for a short story or novella, this is enough. But if you’re writing a novel, as many of us are, there is much more we need to know. We need to know every possible thing about our characters we can. Think about it, how well do we know ourselves, or those closest to us? We know appearance, personality traits, likes, dislikes, choice of style, manner of speech, a bit (or more) of personal history, who many of our friends are, hobbies, quirks, and the things that have special meaning for us. So too is it important to know these things for the characters we’re creating. The better we know them, the better the reader will know them, and thus the more they will come to care about the people we create when we write.
To get to know our characters, there’s several ways to accomplish this. One of my favorites is to take out a character creation sheet from a Dungeons &
Dragons style role playing game. Just as you would answer those things on the paper to make your game character, answer them now for the one you’re going to write about. These creation sheets are available online, and there’s other “Character Interview” sheets out there too. A simple Google search will turn up a lot this way.
An Added Bonus!
So, just for an exercise, sit down and think on the following for your characters. Consider it like an interview. Ask them their: Name, DOB, hair color, eye color, height, weight, age, build, preferred clothing style, favorite hobbies, special personal items, likes (major and minor), dislikes (major/minor), favorites (foods, colors, etc), family (parents/siblings/important extended family), ethnical background, educational background, occupation, residence, personality type, brief life history, brief character story, personal goals, quirks, future, and anything else you think might be important.
As you can see just from what’s been addressed above, there’s a lot to think about when we’re thinking about our characters. And even more when we think about how some of these things are going to fit into the story we have to tell.
What do you say?
Have any favorite characters you’ve created? Did you follow any of the prescribed methods for creating them? Or just jot down what you knew, and pantsed it from there? How important are characters to you?