Characters are the lifeblood of any story. Why?
Because people are our business. No matter who you are or where you are in life, people are what you're here for. Not to mention humans are the most complex beings on earth.
For your character to resonate with other readers, they need to be human, they need to be complex. They need to not be boring. In fact your readers need to be able to connect with them on deep and very personal levels.
So first and foremost, you, the writer, must know them to core. You need to find out who they are.
Get to Know Them PersonallyQuestion them, prod them, hit them where it hurts. Interrogate them, like the bad cop on TV, until they break wide open for you. Find out everything you can about them.
- What are they most afraid of?
- What was their worst nightmare ever?
- What are their dreams and aspirations?
- What do they want more than anything?
- How do they interact with other story people or in situations new to them?
- What's they're favorite song(contemporary or oldies)?
Myers-Briggs Personality Test
If you know your characters from head to toe, inside out and up side down, you will be able to follow them through the rough patches of planning, or not planning, and writing.
My favorite example of a complex or dichotomous character is Ronan, from The Raven Boys. He's rude, he doesn't like anyone, he doesn't keep up his grades, and yet he still rescues a baby raven and loves on it and names it Chainsaw. But I connected with Ronan on so many levels, not only because he was complex, but because he engaged my sympathies.
And Tom Elder from The Sons of Katie Elder. He's this care-free, watch-me, I-don't-care, drifter, always making bets, always trying to act like he doesn't care. But when his little brother is wounded in a gun battle, who is constantly by his side? Who risks his life to stop the villain? Happy smile. Tom Elder.
Myers-Briggs Personality Test
Proust QuestionnaireTo know your character is to love your character. Or to respect or hate, adore, laugh at, have funky conversations with, to insist incessantly upon their reality, to want to shoot them in the head. To slump onto your writing desk and weep bitter tears over.
The more you know about your characters the more you'll be able to explore their souls in the pages of the story. The more you'll be able to bring them to light--the more your readers will love or hate them, too.
Key Characters to Interview
These are the five most important to any story, give or take the mentor and love interest. However, giving each of your minor characters(i.e. antagonist's henchmen or sidekick's nemesis) a goal or desire is a key element to making even them resonate with your readers.
- The Protagonist (the main character, the hero, the point of view character, Puck, The Scorpio Races)
- The Antagonist (the villain, the central force against your protagonist, Chief Elder, The Giver)
- Loyal sidekick (completely loyal to protagonist, shares the same goals, Russell, Up)
- The Mentor (supports protagonist, but also teaches him, Eddie Lowery, The Greatest Game Ever Played)
- The Love Interest (the protagonist's love interest, a motivating force in the story goal, Arwen, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy)
Shape and hone your characters, interrogate them, quiz them. What do they look like? Who are they really? If you know who they are and what their deepest motivations are, the more real your characters will become on the page as you write them, and the more your readers will love them.