NOTES ON CREATING EFFECTIVE CHARACTERS
MOTIVATION: When considering a character, always ask yourself 'why'? Question your character's motive for everything they do, think, or say. Delve into the psychology of your character. Don't make them 'insane' for no reason, or 'always happy,' or anything that can't have backup. Every thing has a reason, and this should be relatively obvious to your readers, unless you mean to keep it a secret; but a good, solid character has depth. One creates depth through a deep understanding of their character's past, psychology, and motives. For instance, it doesn't make sense for a female character in a sexist society, to "suddenly have the will to rebel." No, rebellion comes from a catalyst, an instigator, something has to happen for this character to want to rebel; after all, if you've built that society to generally accept sexist ideals, what would make this female character different from the others? What happened in her childhood to make her think otherwise? How did her father treat her that may have inspired this desire to break the norm? How about her mother? Was there a role model, TV show, event, etc., that inspired this character to break the mold? People never do anything without reason, be it conscious or subconscious, and as a writer, it is your job to write their history and motivations.
STICK TO WHAT YOU KNOW: It's hard to have a deep understanding for your character, if they have no basis in reality. It doesn't mean you can't have superheroes or fantasy elements, but their traits and personality must still realistic and believable within that realm of reality. Even in an alternate universe, there is a state of consistency. Lack of consistency creates an unbalance and a poor foundation for your character, and they will be loose and shallow to the reader. A reader connects with a character when they can sympathize, or feel an emotion from them. Keep at least that much realistic in anything you do. In order to understand your character, you have to understand, or research them. Do you know enough about the period in which they were born, or their habitat? Do you know anything about their demographic, their race, their age? All of these things you must familiarize yourself with in reality before you attempt to recreate it in your story.
It is the same with an artist; an artist cannot learn to exaggerate reality before they learn to replicate it, at least to some extent. Therefore, you must truly know your characters inside and out, and practically live them. These above mentioned traits only come from putting yourself in your character's shoes. "If I were him/her, how WOULD I wake up in the morning? What would be my daily rituals? What would I order if I were them, at a restaurant?" Think about your characters all the time, even when you're waiting on a bus, or standing in line, constantly ask yourself "what would my character do in this situation?".
This is how you can come up with truly unique character traits, that are both believable AND relatable. Draw from people you know, situations you've been in, or even yourself (but don't be one of those writers who writes their fantasy self into everything they do).
CLICHES, STEREOTYPES, ARCHETYPES: Clichés are not the same as archetypes or stereotypes, mind you, and to some extent, these things are necessary for a story. However, a cliché should never be used as an important story element. That being said, this does not mean that all clichés are bad. You can have a cliché storyline, but a diverse range of characters with depth and personality interesting enough to keep your reader into what you're writing. Cliché characters may run the risk of becoming flat and undeveloped if they are not subject to change. If you do not move beyond it, they will remain stagnant, and thus hinder the potential of your story. Avoid them when you can, and work around them when you have them. What is the difference, you ask? In my personal opinion, archetypes are 'genres' of stories or characters, a very basic and general 'theme.' These are hard to avoid.
Archetypes of stories could include: love triangles, the classic Romeo and Juliet fate, jealousy, etc. Archetypes of character may include: the stubborn king, the blinded-by-love youth, the whore or even beast/monster with a heart of gold, the corrupt official, etc. These are things in which you base your story on, but build off of. Stereotypes are only acceptable in moderation. You have to make a character believable. Certain fashions, dialects, and generally accepted truths about a stereotyped character might be necessary to get your point across. This is especially helpful for minor characters. Let's say you have a bartender, who is in only one or two scenes. He needs no real development, as he only acts as a prop for your main characters to interact with. It's okay to go with a stereotype or cliché. If you start going to the extreme opposite, and try to create the 'super unique, most original awesome character ever,' or as I like to call it, the 'anti-stereotype,' you run the risk of 'obviously trying too hard,' which will come off to your reader as amateur. If he's only a minor character, or someone in passing, don't make the bartender "a midget, old woman with a beard, who's lesbian for no reason, has wings, and speaks backwards in French." It doesn't make sense, and is completely unnecessary for a minor character. It is, therefore, unbelievable and leaves the reader questioning "why did they even bother?". Don't try too hard to create something no one has ever seen, because you'll inevitably fail. It doesn't mean that you can't create something original.
Originality comes from making the particular character just unique enough from the others to stand out. However, many aspects of this character probably have their inspirations from other sources. Don't be afraid of that, but at the same time, don't let your inspirations be all you draw from.
CONCLUSION: Most of all, keep practicing. Writing is like an art: no one is perfect the first time they start. No one creates masterpieces with their first works. Don't bank all your money on one story, or one character. Continue to create, because you never know which one might be the big hit. Even when you have created something people like, don't stop there. A true artist or writer is never pleased with their work. Continue to aspire to create more, create something new, and most of all, let your love of the hobby inspire you to never stop.
A template is available if you would like to create an "Infobox" for your character:
Put a full name here.
Put a secondary name here.
Put an age here.
Put a basic outfit summary here.
Put a basic uniform summary here.
Does your character have any scars?
When was your character born/created?
Did your character die? When?
Does your character have an accent?
How tall is your character?
What's your character's gemstone?
Where's your character's gemstone?
Homeworld or Earth?
Is your character in a relationship?
Is your character married?
Who is your character married to?
Who has your character divorced?
Where does your character currently live?
Who made the picture of your character? (the creator of the vacant picture)
What is your username?
Who voices your character?
Describe your character's appearance. Use a picture or, if you cannot, have some information so that people can visualise what your character looks like (OPTIONAL).
- Zodiac Sign:
- Magic the Gathering color:
- DND alignment and class:
- Homestuck class-spect:
- Favorite Food for Breakfast:
- Favorite Color:
- Favorite Hobby:
- Favorite Land Animal:
- Best Friend:
- Favorite Comedy Movies:
- Favorite Rock Music:
Describe your character's personality. How they act, what type of characteristics or qualities they have that define them and make them unique from the next Gem. It's good to try and 'balance' out a character by having a combination of negative and positive traits with them.
What’s their life story?
Powers and Abilities
Extra abilities your character has that others don't (usually) have. Describe what the ability does, keep it balanced, and factor in limitations or other things that may effect how it can work.
Since most Gems have unique abilities, a fusion can get one as well; a combination of the fused Gems' abilities or ability. Try to relate it back to something about the fused Gems, a Gem in the fusion or even properties of the gem they create.
Put your character's fusions here (OPTIONAL).
Put your character's relationships here (OPTIONAL).
Put facts about your character/the making of your character here (OPTIONAL).