The Ultimate Guide to Building Characters - Part 2
Last week detailed character goals, motivations and the need to bring in their backstories to help build your characters and create detailed characterisation, but of course, there are many more elements required to create great, larger than life characters.
The common denominator with any character’s motivation is emotion. Emotions affect our behaviour and they can often overwhelm us. What we feel can shape the way we act and react. So the same is true of your characters. All the things that have happened them, things in the past and present – childhood, growing up, different events and situations, incidents, important moments...they all involve emotion.
All these emotions often manifest because of our past, which is why it’s important that your characters have a backstory. It’s these details that help the reader identify with that character.
Each character will have different emotions, and the more emotion they have, the more immediacy you will create for the reader. Readers want to feel what the characters feel – they want to feel the hurt, the pan, the joy or the fear. The connection you create is vital for the reader to feel this.
Emotions and motivation drives characters, and ultimately pushes the story forward. Without emotion, a story is cold, so make sure yours has plenty.
How relatable are your characters?
Can the reader connect to the character – can they feel what they feel, be moved by their situation or empathise with what is happening to them? Can the reader see themselves in your character?
Relatable characters are those who have not had an easy time, who are up against the odds, who face problems and unimaginable dilemmas and have deep, relatable emotions. They are people who think and feel and hurt, just like real people. As readers, our connection to a fictional character often shapes the way we perceive the story, which is why we relate to them, and so the story becomes more immersive to us.
To build great characters, make them relatable to the reader. It doesn’t matter whether your character is super nice or a slightly unlikable, they need to be interesting enough for the reader to understand them.
That’s why deep characterisation needs characters with fears, goals, motivation, weaknesses, strengths, flaws and lots of conflict. These elements draw the reader in because they are all relatable feelings – we’ve felt fear, we all have goals, we’re all motivated by different things, we all have strengths and weaknesses and we all have our own conflicts to deal with.
These things define us, and so we understand when we see a fictional character going through the same emotions; we feel for them and empathise, because we’ve been through similar events.
That’s how your readers will connect with your characters.
Behaviour and Traits
For every action your character makes, there’s a reason behind it.
Behaviour is a reactive element of people’s personalities. Other people, our childhood and our environment shape how we develop and behave, and the same is true of your characters. Their behaviours and traits stem from the social environment as they grew up, and the present one they inhabit in the story.
They act and react for a reason. They behave in certain ways for a reason. Their character traits occur for a reason. So if you want to build multi-dimensional characters, you should understand what truly makes them tick, and why they do what they do.
Remember that their behaviour changes throughout the story because they are constantly acting and reacting. Don’t overlook this.
Infallibility and Flaws
All humans are infallible and flawed. We all make mistakes. We all fail. Fact.
The greatest characters in fiction are very flawed. It’s what makes them so interesting and endearing, and that’s because they are reflections of ourselves.
None of your characters are Superman. You must show the reader your character’s weaknesses. Have them make huge mistakes, ones that may have devastating effects for other characters. Have them fail, often. Show their flawed characteristics. Show their vulnerability.
All of these make them who they are. You’re not just building a great character; you’re building a believable human.
There’s more to come next week in part 3 of the Ultimate Guide to Building Characters.