Characters make or break a writer’s story. The job of the character is to capture the reader’s heart, thrust her into the story, and keep her reading until the end. Developing great characters creates a wonderful “can’t-put-it-down” book.
And that’s what we all secretly want to do. We want to be a reader’s favorite. That one author they buy repeatedly. Having a great set of character’s they fall in love with is one of the ways to accomplish this feat.
Think about some of the books that stand out in your mind that you’ve read throughout your lifetime. Which character stands out as unforgettable? I have many but I’ve narrowed the field to the top five on my list.
Acheron from Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter Series. He’s a demi-god with all the powers of the universe what’s not to like. I begged her to let me be his love interest even tried to bribe her with drinks. Alas he ended up with someone else.
Nykyrian Quiakides from Kenyon’s Born of Night (League Novels) is a tortured soul with a deadly past. He’s scared not only mentally, but in his physical appearance. It makes you sit back and go hum, how did she make us love a man who’s not the perfect male specimen. Don’t get me wrong, he is buff, muscled, the whole nine yards but he is covered in many visible scars of fights lost and won.
Pearl from C.H. Admirand’s Pearl’s Redemption. Now there was a woman I wish I could have met. When a handsome stranger came a calling, she shot first, fell in love later. A true woman of moral fortitude, strength, yet fragile. A fragility that made you want to help her if she would let you.
LuLu from Beth Ciotta’s Charmed. One of the quirkiest characters going. You can’t help but fall in love with a woman who dresses like a fairy tale princess, performs for little girl’s birthday parties and carries a pink poodle purse.
And last but not least, the one woman who could not be left off anyone’s list.
Scarlett O’Hara from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. What’s there to say she’s a bitch. But she’s a bitch we all remember.
I want you to sit back and think for a minute. What do all five of these characters have in common?
Vulnerability. That little ounce of weakness that makes them just like us. Something that defines them and makes them human-even if they are a demi-god like Ash-even he has vulnerability.
You’ve got to give each of your character’s character, make them learn and grow. It doesn’t have to be a likeable character. Scarlett’s a fine example of that one. If you’re like me, you wanted to strangle her, but in the end you had to respect her. She started that book as a privileged, self-centered young lady but by the end, she’d turned into a self-sufficient, strong woman who’d do anything to save her family and their home, even sacrifice the love of her life to get what they needed.
LuLu just wanted children but was unable to have any so she chose a job that kept her close to the one thing she always wanted, a child of her own.
Pearl wanted nothing more than to live a quiet life on her ranch with the collection of misfit young ladies in need of a home. She’d do anything to protect them and her ranch even shoot the man who rode up claiming it belonged to him.
Nykyrian spent his life trying to prove to himself he didn’t need the family who wanted nothing to do with him. Until one beautiful tiny dancer entered his life and opened his eyes to the fact everyone deserved to be loved even society’s most ruthless killer.
Acheron’s vulnerability is that he cares about the people around him. He suffers so they don’t. It’s a time-honored tradition for our hero’s and heroines to suffer for love.
Can you create a character like that? One the reader will cheer for and love. Yeah, you can. It’s our job as the writer to guide the characters from suffering to loving. In order to get them there, first you have to listen to your characters. They are like stubborn teenagers. They don’t do what you want or listen to your advice. The best thing you can hope for is that your subtle nudges from the sidelines keeps them on the right path.
Take what they tell you and make them stand out from the crowd. Like with LuLu, she’s an adult dressed outlandishly and carrying a pink poodle purse. You can’t miss her and you can’t help but like her.
So in order to build your character, close your eyes and picture what they look like.
Write down these traits. Keep a running file on your computer or in a notebook or both to keep track of eye and hair color. Length and texture of hair, body shape, height, etc…it will help you keep the details correct. And believe me it’s not easy keeping those so-called minor details in order.
Giving your characters little quirks can make them different, like how they dress. But remember that quirk. If the character has a left eye twitch when they’re nervous at the beginning of the book, it can’t suddenly jump from eye to eye or disappear. These tiny things matter and it’s your job to keep them straight. That’s why I’m providing an example for you to follow. (handout) This is a basic handout. Do whatever you are comfortable with and helps you keep your character’s traits, characteristics, jobs, quirks, insecurities, desires, etc organized. Believe me if something manages to slip past an editor and ends up in print it won’t slip by a reader and you’ll get a lovely e-mail with them gloatingly pointing the mistake out to you. (my biggest mistake has to do with 17th century vs 18th)
Most importantly, define your character by who they are, what makes them tick, what drives them to get up in the morning. Give them a goal, a purpose and that will pull your reader into the story and make them want that character to succeed. A character with a strong moral fortitude, a belief in something that they just can’t let go of, or simply a justifiable reason to live will help you build a decent character.
Pearl’s main goal was survival. She had to protect the young ladies who depended on her and fought against a group of self-righteous bitches in order to keep her ranch. From the opening to the finish, she was met with diversities that only made her stronger. Her falling in love with the handsome newcomer in town added spice to the story and kept you hanging as to whether she was going to give love another chance or simply keep her heart closed.
Characters are not just about what they look like in appearance. They are the driving force of the story. Make them believable if nothing else. My goal as a writer is to create a character that the reader will cheer for and make them want to keep reading the story to see if the character survives the hurdles they face and end up winning, not just falling in love, but reaching the goal they started out to achieve as well. The falling in love bit should be the icing on the cake that added extra that makes the story line even more enjoyable.
When creating your characters, think them through. Create their appearance. Give volume to their personalities. Make them 3 dimensional. Give them flaws because none of us are perfect. It’s our flaws that make us who we are. But don’t go to the extreme. No one wants to read about a sad-sack with no life and no will to survive-unless you somehow give that completely down and out character a reason to live, a reason to crawl out of the hell they are in and reach for that brass ring called love and the happily ever after.
If you can do that, then you can create one hell of a character and readers will want to buy your books to sate their hunger for the next great read.