Author Topic: How do you write stronger characters?  (Read 1326 times)

Offline jt72

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How do you write stronger characters?
« on: August 27, 2020, 09:59:30 PM »
 33 tips for writing stronger characters

Before you can effectively develop a character, you must determine the role they’ll play in your story. Will they serve as a protagonist or antagonist? A sidekick, mentor, or love interest? Some other sort of secondary or tertiary character?
No matter the role they play, every character in your story must serve a purpose. If you can remove a character from your manuscript without impacting readers’ understanding of your plot or story world, then that particular character doesn’t add value to your story.

Give them purpose or let them go.
Defining the basic demographic markers that determine your character’s identity can help you better develop their worldview and experiences—and help readers understand who your character is, of course.

Consider your character’s age, gender identity and sexuality, race, religion, ethnic background, level of education, and other common identifiers.
Though they may seem simple, names can hold great power. Consider using your character’s name to showcase the era in which they live, to hint at their ancestry, establish a naming system for your fictional world, or otherwise lend additional depth to your story.
Helping readers visualize your character by establishing their height, build, and coloring is important. However, don’t forget to consider other insightful elements of your character’s appearance, such as their mannerisms, gait, physical tics, and body language.
Your character’s personality is more than just a list of positive and negative traits. By exploring how the characteristics that define your character impacts their voice and lived experiences, you allow your character’s personality to breathe life onto the page.
To be imperfect is to be human. By giving your character a moral shortcoming, negative character trait, quirk, fear, bias, and/or limitation, you develop a realistic character with whom readers can relate. Never mind the conflict that a good flaw can create.

The human experience is rife with internal conflict. Doubts, fears, flaws, and regrets can all lead characters to formulate false beliefs about themselves and the world that impact nearly every aspect of their characterization.
A character’s world-view can be defined as their breadth of knowledge and perspective concerning the world in which they live, which impacts how they think and interact. Elements like your character’s upbringing, education, religious and political beliefs, relationships, and societal influences can all impact their unique world-view.
A character’s voice is the unique way in which they engage with the world as determined by their world-view, personality, upbringing, and other key characterization elements. A character’s voice commonly manifests in their mindset, speech patterns, vocabulary, opinions, internal narrative, body language, and mannerisms. 
Everyone has strange qualities and habits. Defining the quirks that make your character unique can help further distinguish them in readers’ minds, as well as lend to their relatability and/or serve as a key character flaw.
Relationships are a defining aspect of our lives. Whether good or bad, past or present, determining your character’s most important relationships can help readers better understand your character’s world. 
Consider what your character’s life is like before their story begins. How do they spend their days? What are their daily joys and trials? Establishing this reality is key to laying the foundation for your character’s first appearance on the page.
When your character first appears on the page, they’ll likely be dissatisfied with their life in some way (or become dissatisfied due to early events in their journey). Consider what your character believes will resolve this discontent. What do they want to have or achieve to lead a more satisfied life?
Often, what a character wants isn’t actually what they need to resolve the issues they’re experiencing in their life. If this holds true for your character, then determine what they need to realize or achieve to lead a happier life.

A character’s goal determines the arc of their story, prompting the actions they’ll take and the conflicts they’ll encounter. Defining your character’s goal can help you address your story’s plot with confidence and clarity.
Conflict means little without emotional context. To encourage readers to invest in your character’s journey, determine why your character wants to achieve their goal. What will push them to act despite obstacles and hardships?

Well-developed characters have lives that extend beyond the confines of the page. By giving readers a glimpse of your character’s backstory, you can lend context to their characterization and the conflicts they experience throughout their journey.
A “ghost” is an aspect of a character’s past — often a form of guilt, grief, or grievance —that haunts them throughout their journey. Determining the ghost that haunts your character can inform many aspects of their characterization, from their goals and motivations to their personality, world-view, flaws, and false beliefs.

Hope and longing are powerful human emotions. Consider what your character desires for their life. What do they envision for themselves in an ideal world? What dreams do they wish could come true, and why do they feel their dream is unattainable (at least in the present moment)?
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. By giving your character interests that extend beyond the goal they’re working to achieve, you lend additional depth and realism to readers’ understanding of your character’s life.

There’s no motivator more powerful than love. By defining who or what your character loves most in the world, you reveal to readers what they’re willing to fight for.

Personal agency is the ability to exert power over one’s life. Though your character may find themselves in less than ideal circumstances from time to time, allowing them to exert at least some small measure of control over their life is essential if they’re to helm their journey and/or experience growth.
Readers don’t need to find characters likable to care about their stories, but they do need to relate to them in at least some small way. Consider what makes your character relatable, no matter the role they play in your story.
It’s easy to lean into well-worn tropes when developing secondary and tertiary characters who don’t receive much time on the page. To ensure these characters feel just as realistic, consider one or two details you can slip into the text that hint at their richness and complexity.
One-note characters will always fail to come to life on the page. Allow readers to see your character as fully-realized by showcasing what makes them laugh, cry, seethe, cower, and otherwise experience a wide array of emotions.
Handing your character success on a silver platter is a sure-fire way to cheapen their development. By giving your character numerous obstacles and uncertainties to conquer throughout their journey, you create opportunities to introduce readers to new facets of their characterization and growth.
Failure reveals who we are at heart. Allowing your character to stumble and fall throughout their journey gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and develop as human beings.
When your character encounters conflicts and failures, resist the urge to immediately resolve these issues. By forcing your character to dwell in their negative circumstances and emotions for more than just a brief moment, you give your character the opportunity to prove their mettle while lending a sense of realism to their journey.
While allowing your character to sweat, fail, and suffer is important, don’t pack your story full of so much conflict that readers never get to see what your character is like in happier times and moments of peace. Readers and characters alike need these small moments of joy and reprieve.
Happier times aside, well-developed stories require conflict. Ask yourself what line your character would refuse to cross to achieve their goal, then figure out what circumstance would force your character to cross it anyway. Bringing your character to this breaking point will be one of the most important and impactful moments in their journey.
When all seems lost, your character needs a safe haven (e.g. a person, place, or even a memory) from which they can draw much-needed strength. Where will your character find this refuge? What comfort or words of wisdom will encourage them to rise from the ashes of their experiences?
If you’ve harnessed the tips in today’s article, then you’ve developed complex, compelling characters and explored key ways to bring those characters to life on the page. But at the end of the day, well-developed characters can’t stand on their own two feet.

Readers may not care about your story if they don’t first care about your characters, but they also won’t care about your characters if those characters fail to take them on a journey.

You already have what you need to develop your characters’ stories. You’ve defined their wants and needs, their goals and motivations, their failures and breaking points. Now it’s time to draw upon all of the elements you’ve developed to weave a story that readers won’t soon forget. 

This is what makes for a strong character. Not a thousand tiny details but one grand story of was, and is, and will become. So tell me, writer: What journey will your characters experience?

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Interesting the way the internet really works.   jt jt

Offline princessforst

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Re: How do you write stronger characters?
« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2020, 04:11:22 PM »
Thanks for this! This is super helpful for someone like me who is looking into a career in Narrative Design. A professional in the field that I interviewed spoke about the World being his favorite part of a Narrative to build but that the characters are what make the world feel alive and are what make the reader truly feel engaged in your story.

World Builds Character, Characters Build Story, Story Builds the World.

I plan on using this advice for when I make up my own characters, so thank you again!

Offline Kris Stroya

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Re: How do you write stronger characters?
« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2021, 11:29:04 PM »
How much detail do you need to go into when describing a character physically? Is it better to lean more toward allowing the reader's imagination to make an image, or toward a precisely detailed description?

Offline jt72

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Re: How do you write stronger characters?
« Reply #3 on: July 08, 2021, 10:23:01 AM »
Here is your 12 step guide for good character development:

1.Create a background for your character

Character Development Exercise

Fill out a character development sheet so you can understand your characters as full-fleshed people instead of just two-dimensional beings you created. Cover these main ideas when crafting your character’s background:

– Their childhood (good, bad, poverty-stricken, spoiled, etc.)
– Their parents (divorced, never married, one missing, both missing)
– Their friendships
– Their hobbies and interests as a kid versus now
– Their motivations for feeling the way they do about any given situation
– Their personality type and how it affects their actions
– These are some basic elements you should understand about your character in order to shape their personality, opinions, and actions that appropriately fit their background.

2.Give your character strengths and weaknesses

One of the biggest means of influence over your characters will be their strengths or weaknesses.

We, as humans, constantly face our strengths and weaknesses on a daily basis, even in the smallest of forms.

What your characters are good at and what they’re not great at will affect how they perceive different events, what actions they choose to take, and can affect their overall character arc (which we’ll touch on later).

If your character’s strength is talking to strangers and gaining their trust, this might be an asset for them throughout their journey. However, if that is your character’s weakness and they’re forced to do so, it can cause conflict for them.

These strengths and weaknesses will shape your character arc and the plot as a whole, so know them well before writing.

3.Create nervous ticks for your character

If you’ve paid attention to humans for long enough, you’re aware that we all have certain habits we don’t even realize we’re doing when we’re nervous.

Me? I pick at the skin around my nails. It’s a pain (literally) and I never notice I’m doing it until later.

This can be a key characteristic that will make your characters feel more real and help make them more relatable to your readers, which will make them want to give you those 5-star reviews.

Character Development Exercise

Make a small list for each of your characters. Write down 2 odd habits for each of them and decide which is their go-to (the one they do without even thinking about it) and which is made worse through nerves or anxiety.

4.Avoid making a “perfect” character

It can be really hard to write your favorite fictional person as having flaws. After all, we want people to love them, right?

But a “perfect” character is not lovable – they’re hateable because it’s not realistic.

The more you try to make your character “flawless,” the less readers can relate and therefore, they’ll like them less. You have to build flaws into your character just like we all have drawbacks in real like. You need to let your characters fail.

Character Development Exercise

List 3 major flaws your character has that can actually become problems within your plot. Think about any bad habits they have, situations they dislike, or even personality traits that aren’t seen as “good” in order to craft these flaws in a realistic fashion.

5.Give your character realistic motives

No matter which character they or what they want in your story, they need to have a real and valid reason for feeling this way.

Take He Who Shall Not Be Named from Harry Potter for example.

Voldemort (woops!) wants to kill Harry. That much we should all know – even if you’ve never read or seen the movies. But if he was just trying to kill Harry Potter for the sake of murdering a child, it wouldn’t’ make sense.

Yes, he’s evil, but he also has a valid reason for wanting him dead, right?

He has to kill Harry Potter because he’s the only person who was able to defeat him before – and because the prophecy says so.

If your characters – no matter how minor they are – don’t have a motive that makes sense, readers will be pulled out of the story and end up questioning what’s happening, and not in a good way.

This is largely how plot holes arise so in order to avoid them, stick to this character development method.

Character Development Exercise

When coming up with your antagonist’s motives, list at least 2 ways in which they’re valid. For Voldemort, it would be the fact that Harry can kill him and that he wants to rule the wizarding world. Your bad character has to have at least 2 strong reasons for opposing your protagonist and they should make sense given their history.

6.Give them a unique feature

This is particularly for those of you writing Game of Thrones-esque novels with a large number of characters, but it’s important for others as well.

When writing a book, you want your readers to easily visualize and differentiate the cast. You want each character to stand out as individuals.

character development tips

A perfect way to do this is to give each person an identifiable feature.

For example, let’s use Harry Potter again because you probably know what the main characters look like.

Harry has glasses. Hermione has buck teeth (up until she has them shortened a bit too much – and this is only in the books for those of you about to argue), and Ron has flaming red hair.

These are very distinct features that can help you picture them as wildly different characters.

Now, you don’t have to give each and every character some crazy hair color or style, but try not to have your entire cast look the same.

If you have a main character with brown wavy hair, have the next with blonde curly hair, etc.

Keep in mind that siblings can certainly look similar!
Character Development Exercise

Create a spreadsheet or other document that lists all your characters and document their features. If you have two characters who spend a lot of time together in your book and you see they look similar, alter their appearance until they’re differentiable.

7.Develop a wide variety of character personalities

Meaning, don’t create all of your characters to be the “dark and sarcastic” type or the “tough guy” type.

You have to have a wide variety of personalities – just like in the real world.

You can even back up their personality with real-life psychology. As an example, I have two characters who both have a tragic background.

However, they don’t process that trauma in the same way. One character takes on a very withdrawn approach while the other hides his pain with humor. This gives them very different personalities despite having similar histories.

Character Development Exercise

Reference your character’s backstories and do a little research into possible coping mechanisms and how that can affect their personality. Develop it from there in order to have realistic personalities that differ.

8.Create an impact of your character’s past

This is when some research will come into play, which should be required anyway. Looking into some psychological effects of trauma can help you accurately and realistically dive into character development.

Now, not all characters go through trauma, but there are other big life events that can shape how they behave.

If you have a character whose parents were very strict growing up, they may be a bit of a rebel and lack the decision making abilities others have – mostly because they never learned how since their parents made those choices for them.

Character Development Exercise

Since you know your character’s backstory, do a little research into how those specific struggles or realities can shape a person’s psyche in order to accurately and realistically craft their behavior

9.Make secondary characters foil types

This is largely to help with personality contract within your novel. Most of the time, this will happen naturally if you’re giving each character a unique personality but it’s great to keep in mind anyway.

If you have secondary characters (characters who get a decent amount of page time but are not main characters), craft their personality types to show the opposite of the main characters’.

Why? Because you want to firstly create more diversity and secondly, create some non-plot-specific conflict.

Character Development Exercise

Pinpoint your secondary characters and development them in a way that makes them clash or oppose your main characters in certain ways. Think about what could annoy your main character the most and give your secondary characters some of those habits or personality traits.

10.Give each character a unique voice

We all speak differently and that means your characters should too. Depending on where they’re from, they could have different accents, slang, and even phrases they tend to use regularly.

Think of a friend of yours for a minute. What are some specific phrases they use a lot?

It’s likely you were able to think of something in just a few seconds because it’s so unique to them and something they say a lot.

Your characters should be developed in the same way.

If you write two characters from very different areas of the world and they have the same style of speaking, your audience will be pulled out of the story because it’s not realistic. Their voices have to be consistent and not the same.

Character Development Exercise

These tips can ensure your characters speak differently:
– Choose a slang word each character likes to use
– Use different wording for the same meaning like “apologies” versus “I’m sorry” or “my bad”
 – Use unique sentence structures to give each character a unique speaking rhythm
– Make sure your more educated characters speak like it and your less educated use simpler words and phrases
– Create phrases similar to “knee-high to a grasshopper” with unique meanings for your characters’ specific regions
– Read their dialogue out loud in the voice you image they have and make changes if necessary
– The point of giving your characters unique voices is to ensure your readers imagine them as real people instead of two-dimensional beings living in paper.

11.Create a diverse character cast

I’ll be honest, there is a very real problem in literature when it comes to diversity.

You can debate this all you want, but coming from someone who reads many books, it’s a very real issue that only you and other writers going forward can correct.

Your book should be just as diverse as the real world.

If you don’t have characters with varying skin, hair, or eye colors along with varying body types, disabilities, and even mental illnesses, your characters are not diverse enough.

You do not have to write a book about these things in order for you to include them in your novel.

For example, one of my main characters has high levels of anxiety. His storyline does not revolve around this mental illness, but it is there, seen, and can affect his plot.

Character Development Exercise

Look through your characters and their appearances as well as their personalities. If there isn’t clear diversity amongst them, create it. You want to make sure you are allowing diverse readers to feel included, heard, and represented.

12.Avoid character stereotypes

This is really a “do not do” tip versus a “must do” tip. The reason for this is because so many writers feel as though they need a “side character” (or even a main character) but is too lazy to do the real work.

Which means they create a stereotype of a specific type of person that can oftentimes be harmful without the author even knowing.

A great way to ensure you never have offensive stereotyped characters is to use a sensitivity reader or make sure you have a diverse group of beta readers who can speak on behalf of the characters you’ve developed.

Interesting the way the internet really works.   jt jt

Offline Nether

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Re: How do you write stronger characters?
« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2021, 01:11:30 AM »
How much detail do you need to go into when describing a character physically? Is it better to lean more toward allowing the reader's imagination to make an image, or toward a precisely detailed description?

That's a personal decision. I lean towards going with less because, honestly, I get bored with detailed descriptions. However, it probably helps to give each character one distinct physical trait and then let their imagination fill in the rest.