I’m at the beginning of a new project, well two actually, so I thought it was time to blow the dust off my ‘how to write’ books and see what they have to say about developing a strong character. Because we all know a strong character makes for a strong story.
Here’s the list of what I gleaned:
1. Make your character someone you can be proud of
Strength of character seems a slightly old fashioned term, but we all admire people who show us the good things humanity is capable of: loyalty, courage, intelligence, compassion, to name but a few. We like to read about people who have a positive character trait, and have it in spades.
Think of Harry Potter, or Lyra from Northern Lights. Both have amazing loyalty to their friends. They also show great determination and courage in the face of danger.
2. … but don’t make them sickly sweet
After giving your character a strong positive attribute, season them with a little of something negative. We are complex souls with inner angsts and unresolved issues. A character struggling with an inner conflict makes for a more interesting story. Harry Potter is haunted by the memory (or lack of it) of his dead parents and Lyra has to deal with the realisation that her parents aren’t on the side of good.
3. … or all doom and gloom
I say season; don’t drop the whole salt pot in. Nobody likes to listen to a moaner, and it isn’t any fun reading about them either. Self-destructive characters who seem incapable of resolving their issues do not make good stories.
4. Make them a hero, not a wimp
Stories have conflict, and to have conflict you need a character who is trying to get out of where they’re at. That way you can stop them achieving their goal in all sorts of wicked and nasty ways. All of which they overcome in one way or another. And thus a hero is born. Where would Jason and the Argonauts be if Jason had stayed on the beach collecting drift wood instead of building a ship?
5. Remember this is not real life
In real life you wake up at 3am with that edgy response you wish you’d said during the argument last night. In fiction your character can do and say all the things you wish you’ could. Think James Bond. Make your character all you want them to be, because you can.
6. So make them extraordinary
Interesting people make interesting stories. So give your character interests which are out of the ordinary. Make them ‘wacky’, fill them with foible. exaggerate their habits and you’ll have a character fit for the adventures you’re about to put them through.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N Frey
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
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