Now that we’ve covered creating a character in Part 1, we can go even deeper into your character. Remember when I said that you need to let your readers be able to get inside your characters’ heads? You can’t do this unless you know the inside of their heads. How? Easy: Give you characters some baggage.
That’s right. You need to give your characters things that will make your readers want to get inside their heads. There are several types of baggage all characters need in order to be intriguing to readers: history, physicality, and likability/plausibility.
Think back to Part 1 when I linked a copy of the (free) character bio–or think back to the bio you already have. There is (and if there isn’t, there should be) a spot devoted to history. Like I said in Part 1, don’t merely fill it out to get it over with. This is the part that will affect your characters for the rest of their life. Recount all the important events in your character’s life, be they good or bad. Catalogue them in chronological order with when they happened, how old the character was, and the impact it had on the character. For example, let’s say that Nicky was 7 years old when she was playing outside with her dolls and a stray dog roamed into the yard. Thinking that the doggie was nice, she tried to play with it and it snapped at her, causing her to have eighteen stitches in her hand. Even though the event happened when she was 7, Nicky will always be wary of dogs. Maybe she’d only be wary of big dogs, like the one that bit her, or she may be wary of all dogs. That part is up to you, but the main point is that because of her history, Nicky will be wary or even afraid of dogs for the rest of her existence. Now, you can have another character show her how dogs are not all bad, but keep in mind that the psychological impact of the event will prevent her from suddenly liking dogs.
Also, when you make a character’s history, it doesn’t have to be just one big event. Each character is different and has had different experiences. Character X may have seven severe experiences in his life from being the sole survivor of a car crash at the age of 4 to getting jumped in an alleyway at 16 to finding out that he has cancer and only four months left to live at 20, and Character Y’s only main events consist of falling out of a tree and breaking her arm when she was 10 or her cutting all of her hair off at 13. It’s all up to you; just always keep in mind how the psychological effect of all of these events will direct your characters’ actions.
This is all about what your character looks like. On the bio, there is a spot for physical description. This is when you actually get to design your character. The more you plan how your character looks, the easier it is for your readers to pick up on your character’s description. It’s also easier for you as a writer to drop hints about what your character looks like. I, personally, like to make sketches in a sketchbook of my characters. I draw their faces in detail, their clothes (sometimes including all outfits), etc. However, not all of us writing creatives are also adept in art (I’m odd that way). What you can do is list everything about your character. Hair color, skin tone, eye color, hair length/style, body type, scars, tattoos, preferred clothing, etc. Be sure that when you design your character, you go into as much detail as necessary. Don’t just say, “Character X has highlights.” Say, “Character X has blond highlights and caramel lowlights in his dark brown hair that falls to his shoulders.” That way, when you are actually writing about Character X, instead of being lazy and straight up describing Character X, you can mention details in passing. Like, “Sally looked at Character X from across the cafeteria and sighed. Why wouldn’t her parents allow her to get highlights like that?” Now the reader knows that Character X has highlights. In the next detail, you can incorporate color. Don’t just dump physical description onto your reader.
Also keep in mind to get the main physical descriptions about your character (the recognizable ones that differentiate this character from all others) in the reader’s mind within a few pages of introducing this character. I’ve read many a book that only gave me a scant description of a character, and I imagined what he/she looked like only to be proven wrong later on in the book. What? Sue’s hair is purple and not blond? She only has four fingers on her right hand? It’s frustrating for the reader to think they know your characters only to realize that they don’t. This might bring them to question your ability as a writer because appearance/first impression can and will directly impact the reader’s understanding of your characters’ values, morals, and personality.
There is no rule saying that all characters you create have to be liked. In fact, I’ve created a few who I absolutely despise. What I mean by likability is the reader’s affection for your protagonist even if he or she is a “bad guy.” I’ve read several stories in which the protagonist is a mass murderer or thief or thug. Did I despise the character for being such? No! How is that? Because the author did just an amazing job explaining the protagonist (through history and such) that I found myself rooting for the character to finish his killing streak with a bang or for so-and-so to steal that gem from the museum! It’s your job as a writer to create protagonists that the readers will be able to understand and, well, like. You wouldn’t have your protagonist be a heartless mobster without explaining why he is so. That’s just one-dimensional and boring. Readers are sooner to put a book down because of unlikable characters than they are for a tired out plot or shabby writing. That’s a guarantee.
A big factor in making a likable character is being sure that your character is plausible. Remember back to your character’s history. Are you portraying your character in a way that would ring true of a person who actually survived or experienced these events? If the answer is no or you’re unsure, it’s time to research. Don’t freak out–this is the fun part! This is when you get to go out and experience things for the sake of your writing. Let’s say your character is an adrenaline junkie. You can go and interview all sorts of awesomely crazy people so that your character is reminiscent of them. You could even go a step further and experience an adrenaline rush yourself! This way, your characters ring with a truth that will only draw your readers to your characters.
Thanks for reading!