Now that we’ve figured out the plot, we need to create characters that our story will center around. You need to decide if you will have a single protagonist or multiple protagonists. How involved will the villain be? As you consider your characters, you will need to realize that they’re the ones who will connect with the readers and draw them in.
Whether you’ve decided to go with a plot driven story or a character driven story, stories are centered around the people involved in them. These characters are what will drive the plot forward or who will be driven by the plot. While people may be intrigued by the story, it is the character that they will connect with. Even in plot driven books the characters are what people remember the most. When you find a character that connects with you on an emotional level, that book is no longer just a story. It becomes important to you, even sometimes a part of you. As a writer, it is important to try and write characters that people will connect with on that emotional level. Keeping your characters real and relatable is one of the most important parts of your books.
Let’s say that you have decided to write the story with a single protagonist. At this point you need to decide whether you are going to write the story from a third person or first person perspective. A third person perspective is like someone watching a movie. You see the character doing all these things but the only way that you’re getting an idea of what is in their head is through what they say and how they act. Communicating body language is very important as it will give your readers an insight into what is going on with the character. Sometimes you can throw in a little of what’s going through their head but this is not a common occurrence in a third person perspective. Most books are written from this perspective. When you write from the first person perspective, you need to include everything that the protagonist is feeling, thinking, and anything that may be going on inside them. In this perspective there will be things that you won’t write about because your character doesn’t notice them. This is a story told through the eyes of the character. I myself do not write this style very well. Admittedly, I’ve not attempted to write this viewpoint very much. Maybe someday I’ll write one just to have the experience and improve my ability at it.
Now get you decided on your perspective, you need to know everything about this character, even the things that will not show up in the story. Now, you don’t have to write a detailed character outline to begin writing your story. Sometimes you need to begin writing the story to get to know your character. Sometimes it works to write a detailed character history which allows you to know how the character will react in the situations. Other times, it’s just time to write. When you do this, however, consistency is an important thing to keep in mind. If you don’t have character personality and traits firmly in mind when you’re writing the story, you are more likely to have the character do things that are contradictory to their nature. This will annoy your readers. Remember, however, that this doesn’t mean that the character can’t change in the story. In many stories, character growth and changes to personalities are to be expected, but you can’t throw them in without showing a reason for the growth and changes.
If you decide to create a character detail sheet before you start writing, keep in mind that you will have to know this character better than you know yourself. I say this because many times we don’t know many of our unconscious quirks and little everyday habits. You’ll need to know these things about your character. One example is, while doing normal, everyday things, does she play with her hair? Does he shake his leg when he’s sitting, waiting for something? Do they use small words all the time, such as ‘like’ or ‘umm’ in their sentences? These things go along with knowing what they like to eat, what they like to entertain themselves with, how do they like to sleep, etc. Many of these things may not even come up in your story but knowing them gives you a better insight into the character. In the Soul Link Chronicles my character, Rebecca Bray, doesn’t like movies. You get a little insight in the book that she’s not really about entertainment, but this little tidbit about her is not in there because movies don’t come up. She thinks there a waste of time; she would rather be volunteering or helping someone.
Remember that every character has fears and doubts. These character traits play very well into your story, creating conflict and opportunity for your character to grow and resolve things. How will your characters personality interact with the other elements in the story? How these things come together in your stories in may turn out different than you expect.
I prefer to be more detailed about my characters before I start writing because I like to let the characters write the story. Many times when writing I will plan a scene out and then when I sit down to write, it goes in a completely different direction than I planned. This is because when I was planning a scene, I am planning it as someone looking from the outside of the story, trying to force my vision onto the characters. You might say ‘well, you’re the author and you are forcing your vision onto the character’. I used to think that was the way writing went and for some authors it might be that way, but for me, when I sit down and start writing the stories, I become the characters on the page. The outside author in me has presented the situation but it is the characters that dictate how the situation will go. I struggle to write if it’s against the characters personality. Many times I’ve struggled to write half a page and then looked at it, realizing that this is not what my character would do. I erase that half page and let the characters guide the story and in half the time I have two more pages. I used to do detailed outlines but when I start to write, I would deviate from the outline within the first few pages. I learned to trust in the characters I’ve created and write what I’m seeing them do in my head. One example comes from the third book in the Soul Link Chronicles. Without giving any major spoilers, there is a section where a group of my characters have to move from one planet to another through a parallel dimension. I tried to think of every possible hurdle and problem that could pop up with this scenario. I felt ready to write and started writing. The main character in the book explained what they were doing to one of the side characters. This side character’s first question was about a problem I hadn’t even thought of. After I wrote it down on the page, I looked at it and went ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ It seemed so obvious but I couldn’t see it, yet this was the first thing this character thought of. That character is different from me and when I started writing as that character, that question popped up was the first thing that came to his mind.
You don’t have to do a complete detail on every character in your book. How much you need to know about them comes down to how involved they are in the story. It would be a waste of time to go into detail about a character who only in one or two scenes. The most detail should go into you main characters, with less being required with characters that aren’t at the center of your story.
Writing these characters is an amazing experience. You get to know them as well as you know yourself and it is heartbreaking when you finish a series. When I finished the Soul Link Chronicles, I felt relief but I felt an immediate heartbreak. In all likelihood, I will never write about these characters again. It was like saying goodbye to good friends. As I write my new stories, I have made new friends and will again be heartbroken when I have to leave them. This is the connection you want to give your readers a part of. They will never feel about these characters like you do but if you can give them even a portion of that relationship you have with your characters, your books will be successful. So get to know your characters. List things down that may never come up in your stories that are important parts of their personality. Treat your characters as if they are living, breathing people and you will find that your stories will have life in them. Doing this will be the best thing you can do for yourself and your readers.