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  • Brianna MacMahon

Creating Compelling Characters

What makes a good story? For me, unquestioningly, it's the characters. There are only so many plots, but what makes a story stand out is its characters. I take great pride in crafting my characters. Indeed, my favorite aspect of writing is creating new, interesting characters. In this blog post, I will detail how I create my characters.


Make Them Realistic


This advice may seem obvious, but oftentimes, protagonists can be "too good," and antagonists "too bad." A protagonist who is brave, smart, selfless, and kind - and nothing else - is not realistic. All characters need flaws - real, honest flaws. If this aforementioned protagonist was also reckless, impatient, and proud, then we have a more interesting, well-rounded character. We can see what sort of problems may arise for this character. For instance, though the protagonist is brave and would do anything to save others, he/she may also put him/herself in unnecessary danger by charging into a burning building alone, without informing anyone else. Perhaps the protagonist has a savior complex, and he/she doesn't do things solely out of the goodness of his/her heart, but because he/she loves the attention. With just these few traits, both positive and negative, we are already well on our way toward crafting a more interesting, realistic character.


The same goes for antagonists. They can't just be "bad." Instead, they must also possess positive qualities that make them more intriguing. No one thinks of him/herself as a villain; everyone is the protagonist of their own story. Keeping this in mind, we can create antagonists who are also innately human. For instance, an abusive father may also be a staunch supporter of animal rights. Keep in mind, however, that a character's positive qualities do not need to mitigate or erase their bad ones. Truly, a character may have more negative qualities than good ones, and I am by no means saying that supporting animal rights "redeems" an abusive father, or makes him in any way sympathetic. Rather, I am iterating the importance of characters who are not "only bad." Maybe the aforementioned abusive father is kind to those in the service industry. This allows you to probe why he can be kind to those outside his own household, but not those within. While he is still undeniably an antagonist, and a horrible person, he is more nuanced than before, which makes him all the more compelling.



Base Them on People You Know


This builds off the previous advice of making your characters realistic. By taking bits and pieces of people you actually know, as well as yourself, and placing them in your characters, you will create more dynamic characters. Everyone has their own set of quirks, phobias, pet peeves, etc. I, for example, have extreme arachnophobia. Someone I know must have the volume on the TV set at either even numbers, or multiples of five. Another person I know hates it when people leave behind crumbs in the butter. Put these three traits together in a single character and see how these quirks drive his/her behavior. You will be surprised how much easier it is to create new characters by "borrowing" from the world around you.


Develop Their Speaking Voice


Everyone has a unique way of speaking. Whether they use "like" too much, have a favorite adjective, or frequently reference their favorite books or movies, no two characters will speak identically. Make sure you flesh this out in your writing. What I do is I will write out a scene of dialogue between two specific characters, then remove the words identifying who is saying what. If I cannot, based on the characters' syntax and diction alone, determine which one is speaking, then I need to do more work at differentiating between the characters' speaking styles. Maybe one character has a habit of saying "you know" when speaking; maybe another mainly speaks in fragments and rarely forms complete sentences. Characters who are more educated - or simply avid readers - may possess greater vocabularies than the others.


Conclusion


Hopefully, these tips are of some use to you! Feel free to add any of your character creating tips in the comments below!


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