Photo Credit: Flickr user cambiodefractal
A great novel begins and ends with a great main character. The most important part of any piece of fiction is not the action scenes, dialogue, or storyline. None of those things will matter if your readers don’t care about the hero of your story. Let’s take a look at how you can create a main character that people will want to know.
Sketch Your Character
The best thing you can do for your main character is to invest time into discovering who they are before you even begin to write the story. It isn’t enough to know just a little bit about your hero, you need to know about them as if they were your best friend. I agree with Laura Cross who says that a character’s backstory is so important that an author should “know them intimately.”
An easy way to do this is to create a character sketch. No, I’m not talking about being a cartoonist (although if you can do it, go for it). I’m referring to an outline of the general characteristics of your character. This can include (but isn’t limited to) physical characteristics (height, weight, hair and eye color, clothing, etc.) and personality characteristics (do they have any quirks that define them?) and other things that I’ll discuss later in this post.
Keep a running tab as you develop the story to keep facts in order. This will help you maintain consistency and ensure that your character is as detailed as they should be.
Give Your Character A Background
Your main character does not live in a vacuum. If they did, they couldn’t breathe! Add a background to your character sketch to enhance your own relationship to the character. Unless you are writing about their birth, there is a good chance that a lot has happened to your character to make them the way that they are at the point where your story picks up.
Write down the things that your character has gone through to get them to where they are “today” in your story and the things that they are going to go through in your story.
Photo Credit: Flickr user orangeacid
Your Character Needs To Be Different
Your character needs to either having something abnormal about them or they need to be going through something extraordinary in order for them to be interesting. No one tells a story about an average day in the life of an average person. Your main character needs to have something about them that will make readers invest into their lives.
The most important part of your story is not the storyline, it is the character. Just ask Jennifer Knight, who says that “Readers care about outcome only when they care about character.” Define your character in a way that demands that they are shown attention by the reader.
Want proof? Who did you want to win The 74th annual Hunger Games? It wasn’t Cato or Clove or Glimmer. It wasn’t even Rue or Foxface or Thresh. No, you wanted Katniss to win it because you knew her backstory and what made her different than everyone else in The Hunger Games. Your character needs to be different so that your readers will want to root for them.
Give Your Character Conflicts To Overcome
Speaking of rooting for a character, how can you root for someone who is not facing a trial? A story isn’t a story without an obstacle. Your character needs to have a conflict to overcome. The conflict can be internal or external, but honestly your story should probably have both. Consider Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins had to overcome not only his own fear of adventuring outside of the Shire, but he also had trolls, dragons, and Gollum to overcome.
Remember that your character should be different than a normal person, so their conflicts should be no less extraordinary. Brian McKenzie says that your character should have distinct traits, including “at least one flaw.” Chuck Wendig agrees, saying “We love characters for their imperfections. So allow them to be imperfect.” A conflict needs to be overcome by someone who has to struggle to defeat it. Even Superman had to deal with Kryptonite!
Photo Credit: Flickr user primenerd
Make Your Character Real
One last thing before we get carried away. None if this will matter if you don’t follow the advice of Richard W. Scott, who notes that characters “need to be believable.” I don’t mean to say that science fiction characters can’t be aliens or monsters or that Stella could never legitimately get her groove back. I mean that even if your character is a dinosaur, they have to react in ways that a real person would react. They can be angry or goofy, brilliant are stupid, but when it comes down to it they have to have something incredibly human about them. They have to be realistic.
If you take one thing out of this entire post, remember one thing: nothing matters more to any piece of fiction writing than your reader connecting emotionally to your main character. Your audience has to care about them. They have to want to see them win at life.