As a writer, it often feels like we have multiple personalities in our heads. We can have entire conversations with ourselves in the shower or in that space between laying down and falling asleep (if you’re anything like me and it takes forever to shut them up). Character is often a vital driving force behind plot in any story.
For me, and maybe many others, story begins with the voice of a protagonist. It’s there, a shadow in the corner of your eye, a line that won’t leave you as you make your coffee in the morning. From there, it grows into something that is alive. It almost feels like it can think on it’s own. You can practically see them standing beside you.
Then you give it a name and the character becomes your baby.
Too bad your job is to ruin their life. But, more on that later.
Right here, right now, I’m going to help you fully flesh out that voice in your head. You could pull up a blank word file or a notebook and write non stop in your character’s voice to better get to know them, but you don’t always have their voice nailed down yet. My favorite way of doing so is with a Character Resume.
A simple set of fun questions can help flesh out a nugget of an idea.
- What is your character’s full name?
- How old are they?
- What is their favorite color?
- What is their most cherished memory?
- What is their worst memory?
- What is their favorite kind of music? Bands?
- Is there any art on their walls? If so, what kind?
- What is their favorite food?
- What are their dreams?
- What are their nightmares/worst fears?
- Do they put themselves first? Or do others come before them?
- What is their favorite place to be?
- Do they have any political views? Is that important?
- What do they like to wear?
- How do they sound when they talk? Smart? Arrogant? Meek?
- What do they want?
- What are their secrets?
Copy and paste these to a word file and start filling in the blanks. Don’t just limit this to your protagonist, either. You can apply this to each and every character in your story to better flesh them out. Some questions are fun filler to get a better idea of your character while other are important for story purposes.
Every character in your story should want something, not just your protagonist. Everyone has a drive when they wake up in the morning, even if it is just to live. We want companionship, food, sex, freedom. All of those things drive how we act in our daily lives and that should show on the paper. When it does, everyone will come to life on the page.
Another excellent question is what are their secrets. Dialogue cannot always be on the nose. There’s no fun in that. People don’t immediately blurt out everything they’re thinking of. Words get caught in your throat; they are swept under a metaphorical rug; or they’re just plain shameful. Assume everyone in your story has a secret, at least one, that they aren’t telling anyone. It will bring suspense to the page. Suspense is what will keep your readers yearning for more, always saying just one more chapter, please.
Once you have these character resumes filled out, store them somewhere safe. Print them out and keep a binder that you can refer to from time to time. Or, keep them in a file folder on your desktop if you’re the digital kind of person. Whatever works for you. Just have them on hand for when you need to go back and look something up later. You can’t remember everything!
Next, go back to that notebook or blank word file. Grab ahold of that voice you just finished fleshing out and let it begin to talk through you. Write down whatever comes to mind in that voice. Don’t stop. Don’t think twice about anything. Just. Keep. Writing.
Do this until you run out of steam. It could be a paragraph or it could be pages (or it could be a hand cramp if you’re using a notebook). As you continue to write, your character’s mannerisms and thought processes become clearer.
My best friend is part of the LGBTQ community and I often get requests from her when I tell her that I’m writing LGBTQ characters.
Number One: Don’t kill them off! In many instances the LGBTQ characters in books and television were quickly killed off. I don’t know if this was to avoid writing them or if there were other reasons behind this. But, she’s right. It’d be nice to see LGBTQ characters live through books.
Number Two: Their sexuality isn’t their entire life. Cool, she likes girls. But that shouldn’t be a character’s sole reason for existing, even if you’re writing a romance novel. That comes off as flat on the page. Characters need interesting backgrounds and desires, too. Example: While Jennie is transgender, she really wants to write a best selling novel and travel the world signing books, too. In reality, we all have layers of goals. It creates depth that makes a character real.
I’d like to see what you have to say about LGBTQ characters in fiction that could be added to this! Do you agree with what I’ve said? Or do you have another way of looking at it? Let me know in the comments below!
We all really want to see more diversity on the page. We live in an age where the world has become smaller through technology. Countries across the world are now our neighbors in some ways.
I’m not saying just hit the books. Go out and talk to your friends or meet new people. Play games online with people across the world. Listen to how others talk. Listen to what is important to them. Broadening your own social horizons can help you to envision the kind of character that you’re looking to create because you’ll have better insight and, also, someone who can help guide your work.
Writing characters of color takes some research if you weren’t raised within the particular culture. Even if you’re creating your own race in a fantasy world, research of cultures in the real world can echo in your work and make a statement about the way things are here and now.
We’ve been seeing a lot more female protagonists that really inspire us and kick ass. The latest complaint is that by becoming kickass protagonists, they’ve lost their femininity. These girls are stripped of their love for things that are known to be girly, like make-up and frilly dresses.
Sure, some women are kind of like that. Not all women are like that, though. A lot of us can do a killer wing tip and slay at work. We are women, after all. And we should remember to be proud of what makes us women. We’re still allowed to like to dress up and sip mimosas at brunch. Your protagonist can do that, too, before kicking in demon faces. It’s okay.
Not all of your characters will walk onto stage immediately. Most likely, you’ll start with a skeleton crew as you begin to write. Later, when you’re stuck, introduce a new character and watch how your original characters react. Some really fun and interesting things could happen. Or, someone might just walk onto the stage without any help at all, their voice forming all at once like Athena from Zeus’s head.