For Beginner Writers: How To Craft Interesting Characters
“Knowledge of your characters also emerges the way a Polaroid develops: it takes time for you to know them.”
– Anne Lamott
Craft Compelling Characters
“What does your character want, what is his dream, what shape has it, and how expressed? Given expression, this is the dynamo of his life, and your life, then, as Creator.”
– Ray Bradbury
In order to write well-rounded, fleshed-out characters that feel like real people rather than flat archetypes, ask yourself the following questions while writing:
- Who is my character?
- What does he/she want?
- Why does he/she want that particular thing?
- In the end, does he/she get what they want?
In order to avoid writing cliché characters, let’s first explore what that means:
In literature, an archetype is a character that appears in all forms of writing—from classic to contemporary. The five most-common literary archetypes are as follows:
- The Innocent is the young, naïve character (usually depicted as women or children). For example, a damsel in distress in a fairytale is the innocent while the gallant knight who saves her is the hero.
The Everyman is that character with whom we can all mostly relate. Even though he/she is a normal person, they usually have to overcome some sort of difficulty.
- The Hero is always the protagonist (or main character) in short fiction (although the protagonist is not necessarily a hero). Usually, a story follows the hero’s journey. He/she must overcome some sort of obstacle and reach a certain goal.
- The Mentor usually offers wisdom and advice to the hero and is usually advanced in age. An example of a mentor in literature is Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings.
- The Villain is the antagonist within a story and represents malice and evil. The villain tries to get in the way of the hero succeeding in his/her journey. This, in turn, creates conflict.
Make your Story as Interesting as Possible
Use the character archetypes listed above as a way to get started. Use these references as a jumping off point; think of them as paper doll cut-outs. As you add in backstory and detail, you’re dressing the dolls. This makes them more real and relatable to the reader.
For example: when writing the hero of your story, try to make him/her interesting and relatable by adding flaws, fears, etc. Remember: “perfect” characters are not interesting. Make them human—foibles and all.
When it comes to writing interesting characters, think about ones that have made an impression on you. What stood out about these characters? What did you like and/or dislike about them?
In order to get to know your characters better, you can create a “character dossier.” The Elements of Writing offers advice on how to use this in order to build an impressive character.
For more information on character archetypes along with other topics mentioned in this blog, consult the websites below: