What’s the most important aspect of writing fiction? While story and theme are super important, both of those things extend from the character(s) at the center of it all. My current project (which you can have a glimpse at in the closing pages of the We Are Humans Collection) is the first full length novel I’ve done in the first-person perspective. The process of developing such a personal profile for a character, dissecting their thoughts and emotions in a way that third-person by nature doesn’t allow, has me considering the conventions of building a character. I’m by no means an expert, but if you’re here, then I figure maybe you’re interested in my thoughts!
When I’m crafting the main character for a novel, or even a short story, there are five things I consider heavily before ever touching the words of the story itself:
Past – The character’s past — from birth until the timeline of the story — is something the author needs to have clarified to herself/himself. At the very least, major events in the character’s life need to be collected and written into the character’s very bones. Having a good idea of the character’s parents, whether they’re ever even mentioned in your story or not, is also vital to developing the psyche of who the character is. At the same time, the pasts of your characters are on a need-to-know basis. Exposition can and often is overused (admittedly, I’m guilty of this, especially before editing.)
Emotional Stability – Is your character volatile? Does he/she never raise his/her voice? In my book The War for Yokendale, there’s a rather large cast of primary characters, but the main character is Channy. I’ll admit that The War for Yokendale was a little more spur-of-the-moment than my normal work, and Channy is fairly young. With his past more or less expressed in the pages of the work, his emotional stability became my best way of knowing him. He’s a young boy discovering things he’d never expect and stepping into a war between two large, bloodthirsty countries — so how does he react? Having a good idea of your character’s ability to cope (and making sure he/she reacts reasonably within the context) is as important as having the character at all.
Appearance– Knowing intricate details about your character’s appearance — right down to the mole on the left buttcheek — is something that’s been a bit of a crutch for me, but also very difficult. You can say all day that your protagonist has green eyes, brown hair, pink lips, ashen skin, and dresses like a punk rock star, and still every reader will have a completely different opinion of the character’s appearance. That’s good; readers should develop a personal idea of the character. However, knowing the aspects of your protagonist’s appearance will help you to better visualize their actions, self-opinions, and how others react to them.
Future – Knowing where your protagonist is going is equal to knowing where she/he came from. You should know the end of your story, or at least have a good idea of it, before you start writing the core book. Having that information in your back pocket will help you to spot opportunities for change in the main character and give you an idea of the pace his/her development should go at.
Make it personal – Most important is making sure there’s a little of you in every character! Whether you’re writing about a mass murderer or a bunny rabbit, having a splash of yourself in the pages will give the protagonist a relatability otherwise unachieved.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’d like to give my readers the opportunity to take a poll! What would you prefer to hear from my blog? More short stories? More personal stories? More ideas on writing like this post? Maybe some more movie reviews or social commentary? Let me know by answering this poll question. (:
As an FYI: I won’t be posting for the week of 3/20 because it’s finals week at my college. Pray for me!
Here’s this week’s writing prompt:
She heard the noise coming from the hallway again and, her teeth chattering like jackhammers, she rose to seek it out…