To make a character seem real is one of the most important thing’s a creative author can do. It’s what will keep the readers reading and is absolutely essential to a successful story. Below, I’ll provide you with some tips to develop a character and keep the readers interested.
Start with the basics
If you haven’t already got a character in mind, start by figuring out the following:
• Is this character a Hero or Villain?
• Is this character a Boy, Girl or Other?
• Does this character have a main role in the plot or are they a side character?
• Do they have any striking features that contribute to the story?
Once you’ve found the answers to these questions, you should already have a very basic idea in mind regarding your character. You’ve started somewhere, now let’s develop this character.
Show their personality
For a reader to become fully immersed in your story, the character needs to have a personality. This doesn’t mean the character has to be a loud mouth or extremely over-confident, they could be timid or shy. Think of the characteristics your character is going to need, for example, if your character ends up becoming a leader, then they need to develop leadership skills throughout the story and this needs to be shown early on. Is this character secretly plotting against the Hero? Then a sense of distrust needs to be shown. By showing these characteristics early on, a reader can immerse themselves into the story, be careful not to make the character too complex otherwise it’ll be difficult for the reader to relate to the character.
Show their flaws
Not what you were expecting? Showcasing a characters flaws makes them more relatable to the reader, which will keep the readers engaged. A reader doesn’t want to see a perfect human being, they want to see someone who’s real. Usually, these flaws can be the characters salvation. To give an example, Hermione Granger, from Harry Potter, comes across as a know-it-all, but we come to learn that Hermoine’s attitude is vital to the storyline. Think of a flaw your character could have and then come up with a way to use that flaw to the characters advantage in the story.
Here are a few you could use:
• Impulsivity - the character could be an excellent fighter because of this.
• Obsessiveness - the character could become focussed in the task at hand.
• Perfectionist - the character could be highly skilled.
You can also use flaws to develop a Villain, for example:
• Callousness - the character could use this to overpower their followers.
• Deranged - the character could use this to inflict pain upon someone.
• Oppressiveness - the character could use his authority to build an army.
Make them somewhat relatable
A relatable character does not mean that you should build a character on yourself. A relatable character is a character who gives the reader a sense of empathy towards them, so that we can justify their actions (even if that means we don’t fully agree with them) and care for them throughout the story. A reader is most likely going to connect with someone they understand and can feel for. This doesn’t only apply to Hero’s. If your character is a Villain, use their flaws to make them relatable and build sympathy towards them.
Develop a well-thought backstory
Now that you’ve made the character the way they are, come up with a reason why they are that way. People don’t just become horrid or heroic for no reason, something must have happened to them along their journey to make them that way, even if it’s something small. Was your female lead abused and so has formed a hatred for men? Or did your heroic character have to look after and protect his family from a young age, making him protective? Once you’ve developed a good enough backstory, find a way to include it in the storyline. Maybe the backstory is written from the get-go, or will you wait until the end to reveal all?
For example, we find out in Harry Potter *spoiler alert* that Professor Snape spent years bullying Harry Potter because he had a grudge against him, brought on by Harry’s father, James, who bullied him whilst they attended Hogwarts School together and took away Lily, Harry’s mother, who Snape had always loved.
Create a character profile
Now that you have a character in mind, create a character profile and store it away. A character profile is a fact sheet on that character, displaying everything from appearance to personality to occupation, storyline and so on. It’s an essential sheet you can refer to, that will remind you of the character you’ve created and most importantly why they’ve been created.
I have two character worksheets you can use to development your characters and their ARC's. Click here to download the worksheets created by me. Click here to view external worksheets.