Thursday, March 24, 2011

Boring Main Characters 4: Adding Details

We’ve already seen that too many amateur stories have boring MCs, we’ve examined what doesn’t work, and we’ve seen some examples of well rounded MCs. Now I’ll talk about how to make your characters as three-dimensional as those in my examples.

The first way is to figure out all sorts of little details about your character. I’m guessing you’ve all seen the basic charts. They usually look something like this:


Charts like this have their uses. You obviously need to know your character’s name before you can start to write a book about them! (unless the fact that they don’t have a name is a factor in the story) This is the first step in creating a living, breathing character.

That’s just it. This is the first step, not the only step. There’s lots to do once you’ve figured out their physical features and basic likes and dislikes. The next step is to find out a lot more about them, and how these things affect them. Maybe your MC goes to an expensive private school. Does this make them just a slight bit snobby? Or do they feel the need to apologize, and explain that their family isn’t that rich? Do they have lots of friends at school or in the real world? How do they liked their parents?

Write a list of stuff about your character. Try to get a hundred short phrases. If you can’t think of enough things, write one for yourself first. Include things like favourite colour, political views, favourite school subject, most precious possession, do they have bookshelves in their room, how many siblings, how many friends…etc… Then, after you’ve got this long list, write how all these things affect your character. If your character likes pink, is she really girly? A guy who has an Obama poster on his door will probably be really active in politics. Someone who’s good at math will be very analytical in the story. A character’s most precious possession will probably get mentioned. Perhaps your character is a bookworm, so when they talk they would frequently mention characters from books (yes, you can mention characters from other works without breaking copyright). If he only has one little sister ten years younger than him, perhaps he’s really protective of her. Maybe your character has a ton of acquaintances, but no real friends.

I hope this doesn’t seem like a waste of time to you. Yes, most of the details will never make it into your story. That’s why it’s so much more important to figure out how the details affect the character. Maybe it doesn’t matter to your story that your MC has ten identical teddy bears sitting on their bed. It’s what it reveals about their personality that matters.

What are you waiting for? Go write about your characters! Next week I’ll talk a bit about relationships between your characters.

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