Characters are the most important part of any tale. They’re the driving force behind what happened, or is going to happen, in a novel, short story, film, etcetera. Many writers recycle their characters each time they use them — coming up with unoriginal, cardboard cutouts of what people are, rather than actual people. Some tend to use archetypes, controlling the archetype rather than letting them control themselves. When writers do this, they end up controlling the story itself rather than watching the story write itself. The tales that don’t unfold on their own are those that have stiff, trite, and clichéd plots. Plot should be driven by character — not the other way around.
Characters, for the most part, are people, and writers have to get into the heads of at least one at a time. We write from behind their eyes, trying to find the perfect voices for them. Sometimes, characters are not people but we have to treat them like they are. The protagonist or antagonist could be a dog, a cat, a bunny rabbit or a demon. Maybe the story is written from the point of view of The Devil, whether it’s Satan or Lucifer. However, we can all agree that, like people, they are the best when three-dimensional.
Characters are one of the biggest pieces to suspending disbelief. Rather than creating stereotypes and propagating them, creating a character that people will relate to, love to hate, hate to love, or all three, is one of the most rewarding parts of creation.
We have to write from their point of view, thinking about what language they would use to convey each chapter or scene.
They’re the most interesting when they have flaws, rather than being a trope or specific ‘type’. We can all agree by now that vampire love stories are not only irritating, but have also crossed over into being a cliché…. It’s the same with any zombie, werewolf, or witch story. Evil clowns have become a clichéd trope because of how many of us fear them and how, for the
most part, they’re portrayed in the media. But, every protagonist needs flaws and every antagonist needs redeeming qualities. We need to love to hate and hate to love every character.
There are numerous aspects of a human that make them a person, no matter whether they’re an animal, demon, or an actual human being. These aspects, when applied to creating a character, fleshes them out so that they feel real. They become real because of how they’re written. They become real because they’re leading themselves instead of us, the writers, leading them.
The best way for this to happen is for us to create a character template, writing down absolutely everything that matters or doesn’t matter, what we’re going to see or not see, what the character has experienced by their own hand or someone else’s hand, their likes or dislikes, and every bit of anything that may have something to do with them. If we create a complete profile for them then they become real people — the most real and three-dimensional people we have ever met.
There are many tools writers can use to create living, breathing people for their stories. One of them is creating a character sketch and gathering every single tidbit about them in one, fleshed-out, form filled with a description of each factoid. The following is a snippet of the character template I’ve invented for this exact purpose. If you like the idea of using a template to create then there’s a magical passageway at the bottom of the page where you can find the rest of it for $0.99.
Real, Full Name:
Mother’s Maiden Name:
Former Names, If Any:
Real, Full Name: Do they like their name?
Real, Full Name: Where does their name come from?
Pseudonym: Why did they have to come up with it?
Pseudonym: What does it mean to them?
Nickname: Who came up with it?
Nickname: Do they like their nickname?
Mother’s Maiden Name: Is their mother from a prominent family?
Mother’s Maiden Name: Is there any connection between your antagonist and this name?
Former Names, If Any: Why did they change their name?
Former Names, If Any: What meaning is attached to their former name?
Age: How do they relate to their age?
Age: Are they okay with the age they are?
Brain Age: Do they practice any brain teasers to help with their brain age?
Brain Age: Do they have any brain diseases that age their brain faster?
Emotional Age: Is there a reason why they’re the emotional age they are? What is it?
Emotional Age: Did anything happen to stunt their emotional age?
Immortal: How do they feel about immortality?
Immortal: Did they chase immortality? Was it a mistake?
Birth Date: Were they born before or after they were supposed to?
Birth Date: If they were born on a holiday, how does this reflect in who they are?
Zodiac Sign: Does their zodiac sign match their behavior? Why or why not?
Zodiac Sign: Do they put much stock in zodiac signs?
Sex: Do they feel as though they’re in the right body? If they don’t, how do they relate to the body they’re in?
Sex: Are they a misogynist? A feminist? A feminazi?
Gender: How do they relate to their gender different than anyone else around them?
Gender: Do people not understand why they feel how they do about their gender?
This template snippet is from my complete template, which you can have for a small price... just subscribe to the site (or, sign away your soul -- either one), and you'll be forwarded to Google Docs where you can download it!