What kind of character appeals to you as a reader?
For me, I am always am drawn to a protagonist with an amiable virtue that either matches my own or is one that I hope to aspire to. The same goes for the antagonist, as shocking as that may be. They too may have some flaws or virtues that I may relate to, which could give me a better understanding of the character later on.
The main character of the story. Normally, the protagonist is the principal focus; we see the story unfold through their eyes. They have their own virtues and faults and they must overcome some kind of obstacle or conflict that presents itself in the story. Once the protagonist does this, they may make the discovery that will help them become the hero that every good tale needs to unfold to the reader, and teach whatever principle the author wishes to get across to their audience.
The character who impedes the protagonist in some way. Like the latin root of “Pro” in Protagonist means in favor of the character, the “Anti” in Antagonist means standing in opposition to the protagonist in some way.
A lot of times in the story there are more than one antagonist, whether they are a crony of the main antagonist who does their bidding (i.e. Mr. Sir in Holes), or even a force of nature or an object that has a wicked design or purpose on behalf of the main Antagonist (i.e. the ring from The Lord of The Rings).
I really like creating these characters, sometimes more than the actual protagonist themselves. It can be easy to form many different types of supporting characters while writing in a third-person point of view, or even a limited omniscient prospective. However, sometimes it becomes more difficult developing other characters when writing in first person, or from just one person’s mind. But if you can break down the wall that impedes a reader’s understanding of a character, here are some of my favorites to write and read about:
The Tall, Dark Stranger
Nothing draws a reader into a story like the presence of a character with a mysterious air about them. Examples include of course the infamous Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, the brooding Edward Cullen from Twilight (sorry to include that one, but it’s a good example), and the mysterious Hannah Tupper in The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
Many times, especially in popular literature, we see this character unfold as a love interest or even a potential antagonist turned good. The main protagonist focuses their concerns, their attention, and their curiosities on this supporting protagonist, making it easy to draw the reader into the story. Once they hook the audience, they show just how crucial these characters are to the story.
Note: Please don’t just include these characters just to include them; give them a purpose in the story which drives the main protagonist to eventually fulfill their heroic role.
Although this can very well be the main protagonist, like Sir Percy Blankeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel, this character offers laughter and a light-hearted positive outlook to the protagonist during some of the more serious parts of the story. Supportive, who at times chastens the protagonist, some of my favorite examples include the boisterous antics of The Crummles Troupe in Nicholas Nickleby and the witty Martha Sowerby in The Secret Garden.
Yoda. Aslan. Jiminy Cricket. Merlin. We have cherished these supporting characters as timeless favorites, and rightly so. They are very powerful characters in the sense that they influence the main protagonist’s choices that will help them discover the virtues that make them the fully immersed characters they are. In essence, they are the character glue that holds the story together.
And of course, if you’re wanting to be adventurous, there is no rule against combining any of these ideas in to one well-rounded character…just be careful about not making your character take on too much; they’re only human after all (most likely).
Now that you’ve chosen your characters, one groundbreaking resource I like to use to delve deeper into the character psyche is a character questionnaire. You can list every trait about your character and be as thorough as you wish. Most of what you come up with, I might add, will never actually be told to your readers, but at least you can use them as key points that will help you drive your story along.
- Who has had a lasting impact on your character, that made them into who they are?
- What circumstances lead your character to their present state?
- When does your character turn into the hero or the villain?
- Where did your character learn their traits?
- Why do they do the things they do?
- How do they act in accordance with other characters (based off of your answers to the previous questions)?
Try to shy away from static.
I may be alone in this but I HATE static characters–people supplanted in a story who do not help drive the story whatsoever. To be honest I don’t really see the point of them, unless they are mere background extras.
That is probably why movies with well-acted characters are so appealing to me. I read somewhere recently that the key to creating good characters is to write them as an actor. Good actors delve deep into the minds of the characters they portray and envision some kind of backstory that will add strength and drive to the tale.
Put yourself in EVERY character’s shoes.
This one might sound obvious, but a lot of the time writers actually slack on this. They see their characters from an outside point of view, making the character not as grounded or believable as they had intended.
When I speak of putting yourself in your characters’ shoes, I mean actually making them vulnerable to the audience. Now, I’m not asking you to spill out every detail of the character–you may lose your audience pretty quickly–but give your audience just enough information where they can either infer the rest of the characteristics or, if you want to get really creative, leave a mystery about the character that won’t detract the reader from them, but will be enough to keep them intrigued.
In the case of the antagonist of the White Witch in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, although we may not be told in the first novel the full story of the her background, we are given just enough information to understand her character. Therefore, we can keep our imaginations busy.