Who are your favorite characters? Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler from Gone With The Wind? Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia from Star Wars? Sam and Frodo? Ahab and the whale? The Lone Ranger and Tonto?
Why do such characters live on in our imaginations? What about them causes us to laugh and cry and wonder if they are all right?
Novel Writing Boot Camp
Learn more about creating memorable characters and developing your skills at the Guild’s Novel Writing Boot Camp, May 6-7.
The key is that the writer defined the characters with believable traits and clear motivations. They created characters we can care about.
How can you create memorable characters?
Firmly establish the wants and needs foundational for your character’s critical motivation.
If I asked you to write down all the things you wanted, you might fill a book. But if I asked you to compile a list of what you need—the project becomes more difficult. We don’t always know what we need, and finding out may require soul searching.
When we create realistic needs for our characters and those needs become their most sought after goals, suddenly we’ve motivated them to seek those things vital to their survival.
The real roots of motivation
How unmet needs are fulfilled depends on your character’s integrity, established over time through life experiences, heredity, culture, setting, and environment. No wonder we humans are flawed!
No protagonist should be perfect. No antagonist or villain should be completely evil. But some characters have more flaws than others—and out of those flaws come weaknesses and room for growth. Out of the admirable traits come our heroes and heroines, who have the stuff that gives us hope and helps us believe again in the goodness of flawed humans.
Weaknesses and struggle
We all need relationships, significance, and security. We are supposed to allow God to meet these critical needs, but we are all flawed and often look for fulfillment in other areas. Those areas become our weaknesses.
Examine your character’s struggle. Does he have a need for material goods, power, work, education? How do those weaknesses manifest? Does your character seek to satisfy his basic needs in ways that honor God?
Reaction and response
Study your characters from every angle to determine the underlying factors that shove them out of bed each morning. Interview your characters. Live with them. Go to dinner with them. Place them in settings unlike those in previous scenes.
Their reactions and responses determine who they are. Steer away from predictable behavior, but stay within the parameters of the traits you’ve assigned each character.
The next time you read a dynamic novel or watch a movie that has you on the edge of your chair, try to determine why the characters have gripped you. Discover who they are by examining their wants and needs, motivation, weaknesses, and reactions.
Who are your favorite characters and why? Answer below in the comment box.
Award-winning author, DiAnn Mills, has 50 books in print and has sold more than 1.5 million copies. DiAnn is also the Craftsman Mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. Her website is www.diannmills.com.