The ability to create believable characters in your writing is essential to set your work apart from others. Nothing can jar a reader out of your story faster than terrible or unrealistic characters. And having an excellent understanding of your characters can help drive the plot of your stories along.
My brother gave me a Masterclass.com subscription this year and it has been a fantastic gift. There have actually been quite a few tips I’ve learned through these classes that can help with character building. Take for instance the class given by Natalie Portman.
Her class is actually on acting. If anyone needs to thoroughly understand a character it’s definitely an actor. Portman has a lesson around understanding your character. One of the things she does is she starts exploring how her character views herself.
She starts to further attempt to look through her character’s eyes and asks additional questions. How does your character view others? What does the character know about how others view them? How does their point of view change in different parts of the story? What does your character actually want? What keeps them awake at night?
Taking time to answer these questions can really help you develop your characters. You might uncover some hidden motivations you didn’t know before.
Ways to Understand Your Characters
- Take elements of your characters from real-life influences. Your quirky friends or bizarre family members can be a treasure trove of inspiration for your characters. Observe people. When you travel or go to the store. You can also look towards history and see how historical figures behaved. Be careful not to take influences from other fictional characters.
- Take a personality test from the viewpoint of your character. This is a great way to walk a mile in their shoes. There are some amazing personality tests like Myers-Briggs that can give you a lot of insight into your character. Hub-Spot has an article on 14 personality tests you can take for free. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/personality-tests
- Make up a conversation with that character. If you were a reporter interviewing them, how would they respond? Ask them what their childhood was like? What do they want to accomplish in life? Is there something they wish other people knew about them.
- Create a Social Media Account for your Character. A fun avenue to explore your characters is with social media. You can create a fake Facebook account or twitter account for them. What would they say or post? Heck, if you wanted you could even keep it and post from it on occasion to help sell your books. It might be a fun way to interact with your audience.
- Write a resume for them. This one is silly, but it can become a cheat sheet so to speak for you. You can see their background and qualifications or what that character thinks their qualifications are. This is something you can print out and have handy to refer back too.
Overcoming writer's block with strong characters.
In Neil Gaiman’s masterclass, he describes a method to help you avoid writer’s block. He said if you truly understand what your characters want and desire, then this can be a tool to help move your plot along. You don’t have to struggle with where to go in the story.
Simply have two main characters who want completely opposite things. The plot will progress as each one tries to get the thing they want. What does your character do to get the thing they want? How do other characters react or try to stop it?
Letting this conflict play out can help push the story along and drive your plot forward.
Finding the Voice of Your Character.
Your character’s unique voice is a combination of your writing style mixed up with your character’s personality. Your character’s personality impacts how they say things in both the words they say and when they speak it.
Are they positive or negative thinkers?
Are they silent in certain situations?
Is your character educated?
This will impact both the structure of their sentences and their word choice. Your character’s age can also impact how they speak.
A great video on this topic can be found from iWriterly’s youtube channel.
Here are a list of the tips for giving your character’s a unique voice according to iWriterly.
- Avoid archetypes.
- Create a backstory for the character. If they are important enough to have a name, then they are important enough to have a backstory.
- Word choice should directly reflect your character’s background and age.
- Use Actions and Reactions to portray characters.
- Give your characters flaws. It is not fun for readers to follow perfect people.