Fiction writing is actually a broad category and can apply to TV, radio shows, short fiction, novellas, and of course novels. Plays and screenplays both also involve creating characters. In this article we will take a quick look at what is involved in creating good characters in your work of fiction.
When any of us read excellent fiction, the characters always stand out. Once you look, you will notice that they have enough depth to hold our interest, but are really held together by being exemplars of just a handful of traits. From a personal perspective, I find this easy to relate to because of how much I create my own images or senses of what other real people are like in a similar manner. I know there is greater depth and more detail to each of us, but often a few things are enough.
In creating characters for fiction, realize that the plot and the characters need to go together. If they don’t, you will get quite a bizarre tale or the story won’t go well because your characters are forced to act out of character much of the time in order to drive the plot forward.
What motivates your characters? Knowing any major life motive can help create the right kind of person for your story. A character may be most motivated by love or by sexual desire, or by money. One might have an intense personal passion and interest. One could be out for revenge or out to save the world. Of course, the lack of motive or unknown motives can be an intentional means of making a mysterious character.
The life motivations and what is driving the character through the story may be different. For example, one could easily have a sexually motivated life motivated character who is driven by the desire to rescue a damsel in distress while working as a police officer in a mystery novel. One could have an artist, motivated to achieve heights of personal self-expression over all but within the story line is motivated by her romantic desires in a romance novel.
Especially from the movies and television, people are somewhat conditioned about who we see and what we think. How people present themselves for work life and through other means also influence us. So do personal experience and personal preferences. In this case, personal experience includes other stories we have read or watched as plays or TV or film or even know from songs.
Making characters that look right may well come naturally. If you are a new writer, writer’s groups can be a great place to get feedback about what your own characters are like, including the question of whether or not they look right for the part.
As a writer, you have the choice to be intentionally conventional or intentionally unconventional. In reality, for most writers, leave the unconventional until after your career is established.
Tall dark and handsome still means something, but whether dark obviously means a black man or if it means a white man with dark swarthy hair depends. The characters need to fit the environment and the story line.
Your characters may well have professions. Whenever there is a good job match between a person and their profession, the job is a great way to showcase the identity of the character. A character that does not have a good job fit, and is not well represented by their profession may need to be shown to express that somehow – as a hobby or through volunteer work or some other means, or to have some difficulty with the job. A little dialog in bits and pieces might show the person’s colleagues expressing the ill-fitting nature of the job or that something about the person or situation is peculiar or even wrong.
Other qualities that may not be too difficult to express in written fiction: savvy, fear, courage timidity, enthusiasm, unforgiving, kind, impatient, persistent, inconsistent.
The relationship between characterization and plot is so intimate because what your characters do in response to each event is determined by who they are. As simplistic as it sounds it is that the plot of a story and the characters are interdependent.
Dialog within a story is a great way to give your characters more opportunities to express their identities to the readers while also driving the plot of the story forward.
Any other form of intimacy that occurs within the story can be used to reveal the character of the characters – silly as that sounds.
Of course, the secrecy and uncertainty people have about who other people really are is often used in writing. In many mysteries and thrillers the villain is someone who, on the surface, does not appear to be of the same character that he or she really is. In comic book hero stories, the villain is often open and well known for who he or she really is.
Integral to every written work of art involving people and an active story line are characters. The art of creating and portraying characters through the written word is an important part of being a writer and of every story. Some of it may come naturally, but a lot of it can also be learned. Just remember that your plot and your characters need each other.