The Ultimate Guide to Building Characters - Part 3
Last week looked at things like emotion, making characters relatable, giving them behaviours and traits and making them infallible. Each of these facets builds more of your characters; it brings them further into the reader’s imagination. But the one thing that brings characters to life is the similarity to real life people – that sense of realism.
As previously touched on last week, emotions play a huge part in creating characterisation, and one of those emotions that span the distance between fiction and reality is the emotion of fear.
Any story that can tap into fear is one that will hook the reader from the first chapter to the last. Fear – real or imagined – affects all of us in different ways. Everyone knows what fear feels like, whether it’s fear of spiders, the dark, the fear of heights, snakes or other irrational phobias. That’s why horror stories work so well – they exploit those fears and make us face them. Those fears feel real.
It’s not just the irrational fears that we all have – fear comes in different forms. We always fear what we don’t understand or don’t know; to treat the unknown with suspicion. People fear situations they have no control over, so they act and react because of those fears.
Fear makes people do all manner of things. It makes them act in unusual, uncharacteristic ways. Fear can consume us, disable our ability to think clearly and create danger, not only for us, but for others around us.
Your characters are no different. They all have fears. Irrational fears, and fears created by the situation they find themselves. Fear pushes them to do and act in a certain way. Fear drives them to make certain decisions. Fear creates fear.
A character with no fear isn’t a realistic one.
Building great characters isn’t just about the physical or the emotional elements that the reader sees. Your main character must develop as the story unfolds – he or she must change in some way, whether through his or her own actions or because of what happens to them.
Characters need to reflect real life. Whatever happens to us directly impacts how we are, so whatever happens during the story will impact on your characters in the same way. They will develop because of the story and for the story. They may find strength in themselves that they thought they didn’t have, they may find themselves because of their journey, they might have become a better person, or they learned an aspect of life that will change them forever.
Whatever it is - by the end of the story they cannot be the same character as when they started.
It’s the one thing that every character ever written should be. Your character should be like no other character. What makes them stand out from every other character? Why are they so different? What makes them want us to be part of their journey?
The thing that makes every human unique is the very same thing that makes your characters unique. It’s all the elements that come together that make them multidimensional.
It’s who they are.