World building is great, solid writing is a must, but if your characters don’t stand out, then your book isn’t worth reading. BOOM.
OK, you say, I want to write amazing, three-dimensional characters. Where do I start?
There are a lot of ways to get moving on your characters, but it all comes down to understanding what makes them work. And before you truly understand them, you need to define a few basics. I searched for character worksheets, and came up with this one from writerswrite.com.
Character Profile Worksheet
Socioeconomic Level as a child:
Socioeconomic Level as an adult:
Siblings (describe relationship):
Spouse (describe relationship):
Children (describe relationship):
Grandparents (describe relationship):
Grandchildren (describe relationship):
Significant Others (describe relationship):
There’s much more at the link, but this is a good place to start. For me, I started with a person in my head and then used the worksheet to help me answer some questions I didn’t think of on my own.
Once you’ve filled out some sheets like this one, it helps to write some scenes with your characters as you’ve written them. These scenes are not meant to be in your book; they’re just writing exercises to get you thinking about how your characters interact. You can search for writing or character exercises – there are a LOT on the internet. Nanowrimo.org has some great links there listed in the forums. This will help you see if your characters have more to tell you than you get from a worksheet.
Again, why are characters so important? Ask yourself, if I read a book with a beautifully detailed world, intricate and well thought out, or a realistic setting I could imagine walking into, a world described by the most amazing writing you’ve ever read or imagined and a truly unique plot that just blows your mind
peopled exclusively by the most generic, boring characters you’ve read a thousand times over, acting with no discernible motivation….
Would you finish reading the book?
No. Because it wouldn’t matter. If you can’t connect on an emotional level with the action or the setting, then it doesn’t matter. Characters are where we connect to the emotional content of the story. But with flat characters, the struggle in the plot has no immediacy; the writing describes a great world but that’s all. You put down the book and forget to pick it back up again. When you finish it, IF you finish it, you don’t care what happened or how it happened. You just vaguely remember a couple of details and then move on.
So we want characters that readers care about. Part of that is in building a great back story, one that may not ever be seen by readers but will nevertheless shape everything we write. And we want to rewrite until our characters and their struggles become more and more real. Sure, our characters may – will! – surprise us as we start writing, but they shouldn’t BORE us.
Hope this gives you a place to start. November is just a couple of weeks away! Good luck!