Kale’s Guide to Well-Developed Characters
Hello, hi, hey! My name is Kale, I have many nicknames and like to think I’m funny. But most importantly, I’m an author who won several national competitions in the small country of mine. I write on Wattpad and Episode too, sadly, I’m not so successful there.
But let’s cut to the case. I’ve prepared for you this article, for newest writers to use and experienced writers to criticise. It’s full of tips, advice, and techniques - everything I’d love to know before I started writing. Maybe someone posted it before, who knows? But I hope I can add some onto it.
Worst Mistakes in Character Creation
We all know everyone makes mistakes. Some are worse, while some we can get away with. But there are some characters that should most definitely not be in good stories - especially character driven.
Ah, Mary Sues. Probably one of the most painful characters to read. Not only are they completely unimportant, they’re also extremely annoying. I, myself, completely loose interest in a story with a Mary Sue. So, what’s the best thing to do? Avoid Mary Sues!
But once you’ve done the mistake, it’s hard to fix it. You can’t just insert flaws, they need to fit in. Think about their bio. What’s the cause of this? And that? Try to think of as many events as possible.
Always won school contests? Make him extremely self confident.
Her parents loved her and gave her everything she needed? Make her very materialistic.
Everyone wanted to date them but they didn’t see it? Make them snobbish about their partners.
Another way; try turning seemingly good traits into bad. What’s the downside of a virtue of your character?
Had many boyfriends but broke up with all of them because she was too good? Try giving her commitment issues.
An amazing leader everyone wants to be in the team with? Make them extremely controlling.
Everyone loves them but they don’t see it? Make them see it but pretend not to for attention.
That’s all I have for now, but I may add more later!
Cliché characters, we sometimes come across them in good stories even. And they suck. It’s like reading a continuing of one story again, right? Now, I know a few ways to fix this.
Make a twist on it. Put a technical reason behind one of their traits, but make it surprising and something that would change them.
Bad boy who cares about nothing but himself? He’s not actually bad, just does it to get attention.
Shy MC who can’t even talk to guys? Her ew boyfriend stole her family ownings.
The cool party girl new best friend obsessed with shopping? She isn’t really cool and good looking, she just wants to impress the MC because she doesn’t know her bad reputation.
Another way I would use is the same as with Mary Sues. Develop a virtue into a flaw, or maybe even the other way.
MC who’s all poor and her parents died? Make him hate his parents.
Dark, mysterious LI? Giillable and afraid of getting tricked into revealing a secret.
Rich mean girl who hates the MC without even knowing her? The MC’s family scammed hers.
One dimensional characters lack depth and conflict, most important parts of a story. They never seem to grow or learn which makes them irrelevant to the story. We can spot them in bestsellers which makes it worse. So how can we make a difference?
Add more events into their backstory. With backstory, the image of your character immediately develops and gets deeper.
Always sad and depressed? Their best friend died and is afraid of replacing them.
A ball of sunshine, nothing can hurt them? Their late grandma told them to keep smiling no matter what.
Naive and childish, always irresponsible? Their whole family always took care of them and promised it to be that way.
That’s all I have for now! Of course that’s not all the ways to improve a character. You should work with what you’re comfortable with and what works for you.
How to Start your Character
I like to start with a backstory. The character just comes naturally. It’s hard to write a backstory after a character, sometimes it can feel forced. If you write a personality, backstory could be just blank - while if you write a backstory, a personality just comes to you.
You might want to use a bio outline first, that’s what I do. How I do it, it’s pretty simple. Just write a few sentences for each period of their life, then elevate it. Here’s a short example:
Kiara had rich parents. She loved to play dolls when little. Her focus was on making friends and reputation. She had many romantic partners in high school. She got hired as an assistant in her parents’ company.
Kiara’s parents were rich with a big company and respectful residence - a giant mansion.
Kiara got everything she wanted, and most of it was doll houses. She loved playing with the little figures, controlling their lives.
All Kiara wanted in primary school was many friends. Everything she did was with the goal to impress someone. She wanted to be popular, therefore collected much reputation.
In high school, she got more mature and focused. She started developing romantic attractions and wouldn’t hold back with asking someone out. Of course, rejecting her would be bad for your social status so she always got on dates.
Basically education-less, Kiara’s parents hired her at their successful company. Without any effort, she got the position as an assistant and earns more than yearly employees.
Of course, this is just a rough example. If you want an important character, one that affects the storyline a lot, you should add more. Add detail, personalise it. Make it their own. Add some of them into it, as an autobiography - that always helps with your character picture. Just think deeply into it, and I’m sure it’ll all come to you!
Finding the Meaning of your Character
Every good character has a place in a story, they’re not there just because. At least hopefully not. Every character has a meaning, and for achieving that, they need a life goal. They need a chance to grow, their motivation. Otherwise they’re empty and boring. Think about it a little, I’m sure you see it.
There’s not much to say about character goals. It’s what drives them, gives their life a meaning. Without a goal, it’d be all fulfilled and they’d be satisfied with their life. In other words, not-so afraid of dying. Most stories set in teen or YA years, I doubt that’s the case. So personalise them, give them a life if you haven’t already!
Picking a goal is fairly easy in most cases. Sometimes it’s not, it happened to me twice or trice. But that’s not bad! It makes you think deeper. So, let me brainstorm a character; we have Isla, a happy-go-lucky girl who lives music. Her grandpa was in a folk band and even though most her classmates had prejudice about it, she wasn’t ashamed of it and loved their music anyway. Think about Isla a little. There are many possibilities for her goals in life. I want you to choose what you would, and I’ll choose mine.
I chose my goal, my version of Isla wants to become famous for playing the guitar. We probably have a different goal set, mine may be more or even less specific to yours, and that’s completely fine. Everyone has a different writing style and it can vary on different books, even. But now that we have a goal, we wanted to make it even more meaningful, it can’t be just random. Think about the cause behind it.
Got it? Good. My Isla wants it because she wants to make her grandpa proud and show the world that you shouldn’t be embarrassed of one part of your life because of another.
This only took a few minutes and we already have a pretty good base of a character! Even now, with only a goal and a motivation, I know so much about my Isla. This is how important a character goal is. I want you to do this everytime with every character if you haven’t already. It’s very, very important for them.
The Last Step of Making your Character Important
We have a goal, but every goal needs conflict. Like you can’t have cereal without milk (well, I do, but people use it as an idiom so it doesn’t matter). Conflict is what makes a story, the main builder of a story. Of course, you can’t have conflict without goals, but with goals only, there’s no story. A goal is oxygen and heat and conflict is a fire to your campfire. You need them both, but conflict is what you actually need.
So, to get deeper. Conflict is an obsticle in your character’s way. It holds them back, it blocks them from getting their happiness. In the best character driven stories, characters conflict each other, while in plot driven stories that’s not always needed. Conflict needs to be deep and not just randomly put in. It needs to be there to develop the story, not just to say Ha, I have conflict, my story is good even though the conflict is just the fear she gets in five chapter. No, it’s not. Conflict needs to be thought out and bring story somewhere. Most people just plan the plot as it goes, and that may be fine, if you have the goals and conflict set already. If you don’t, it’ll probably be melodramatic and all over the place - and I’m speaking from experience. If you don’t have a plan for your story and want it to be good, you should at least set the goals and conflict.
To set an example, let’s give some conflict to my Isla, shall we? There’s a lot conflict possibilities as being famous is pretty hard. But none of those characterise her, it’s an external conflict - which is important, too! - and we want something to evolve her character. Think about her goal, visualise it. The gigs, the people, the lights, the sound. Put yourself in the situation. What in that scene would make her rethink the goal? Maybe she’s afraid of being treated differently, like a goddess, not a normal person. Try to think of more conflict possibilities to yourself.
And just with goals and conflict, we seem to have a character already, huh? I think I’d be able to write a proper scene with Isla. Goals and conflicts characterise a character a lot, they’re the most important parts of a character. As you can see, just with them, you can already build a good character base.
Backstory, goal and conflict bring a lot to a character, but still not quite enough. With them set, you have an idea - not just that! - of your character and it’s easy to continue. Some could already start writing with that and develop them through the process, but there’s still some things we can do.
Add fears. Everyone is afraid of something. Children and younger people tend to be more scared of material things, like spiders or darkness, while adults and older people are more likely to be afraid of immaterials, like betrayal or loss. Of course children are afraid of immaterials too, and adults of materials, but mostly not. With time, we get less afraid of things that aren’t dangerous themselves. Based on your character’s backstory, decide what their fears could be. Make them meaningful.
Involve values. What do they appreciate in life? People are very different to each other, some appreciate friendship, while some appreciate money. It’s a big part of our lives, our behaviour and our decisions. Setting values will make your character more human. Think of their backstory and what they got most of, what was the biggest part of it. That’s one of the best options for their main value.
Build in relationships. Relationships are a big part of our lives. Someone close to their parents is less likely to seek acceptance and support, while someone with many younger siblings may be more protective and likely to take the responsibility. Think about your character’s relationships with their family members, friends, current and past love partners. All of them change them and affect them. Make it count. You’d be a completely different person if your best friend was your nemesis.
And that’s it from me! I dearly hope I helped you or at least gave you knew ideas, gave you another way of thinking. I put my heart, soul, and time into this article, and while it’s not much, I tried and that’s what matters. Let me know if I helped you and criticise me, help me improve. After all, we all need it and want it.
Some behind the scenes
I’m nervous I’m nervous I’m nervous what if everyone hates it I’m nervous
Thank you so, so much Cheryl St. John! You improved my writing a grand, as well as my view on life. bows
I’d be happy to write more topics like this, writing is my passion and I’d love to help people with it. But I doubt people will read it. If you would, let me know!
Some self promo No, I’m not that kind of a person!
Cheese out. Get it? Like peace out, but I love cheese.