Great characters don’t just happen, they are more than just written-they are born. Scarlet O’Hara, The Wicked Witch of the West, Beetlejuice, Mary Poppins, and Tony Montana all had obvious needs, wants, fears and idiosyncrasies that made them unique and recognizable. And although they live purely on paper and film, their characterization is built with such realism it is as if they could be the nanny next door, the spoiled brat in the big house down the street or the Mafioso in the neighboring town. That is the magic that happens with writing the perfect character. Developing interesting, colorful characters is not an easy task. By remembering six core issues when writing can help bring your characters off the page and into the coffee shop at the end of the block.
DRAMATIC FUNCTION: The dramatic function of a character is part of the story’s logistical structure. The function of the character in the story directly ties him/her to your plot. Is the character the protagonist? The antagonist? The sidekick? The hero? The villain? The damsel in distress? The combination of roles among your characters can actually help to build your story outline. But remember, even the most structurally strong characters are forgettable without a charismatic personality.
GIVE THEM LIFE: You should know your character like you know yourself. Every question should be answered. What is their name? Age? Race? Weight? Height? Hair color? Are their teeth crooked or straight? How do they dress? Where were they raised? Where do they live? What do they want? What do they need? What are they afraid of? What makes them happy? Do they believe in God? Do they believe in the Boogey Man? What motivates them? Leave no stone unturned. Also add a hook, something that gives a new level of characterization-- a nervous whistle, a ditzy hair flip, an endearing chin tweak of another, a sweet little wink, a nasty diet coke habit. This does not add to the persona but gives the character a little something extra. The more life you breathe into your character the more interesting they will be.
MIX AND MATCH STEREOTYPES: Is your character lacking that extra little pizzazz that makes them truly pop. Try this… take them out of their normal stereotypical roles: have the damsel in distress be a guy (Tomb Raider), have the crazy murdering psycho be weak cancer patient (Saw), have the war hero be seventeen-years-old (Joan of Arc). We tend to subconsciously assign personality traits to characters based on their age, race, and gender, ect. By mixing and matching traits and roles, characters can become more dynamic.
RESEARCH: So you have created the perfect character- a Dragon Slaying Knight; he’s young, handsome, noble and afraid of fire. But if you are a fifty-year old woman living in modern day, do you really know anything about him? You need to research to find out all you can. What were the living conditions like? What was it like for young knights back in medieval times? A little research will go a long way in bringing realism to your characters.
EMPATHIZE WITH YOUR CHARACTERS: Empathy is understanding; you must have an understanding for your characters. Usually this is an easily achievable task in creating your protagonist. It is a bit tougher when it comes to your antagonist. When writing your antagonist, you have to understand why your character is making their typically unexplainable choices.
CHARACTER ARCS: A character arc is the internal change, for better or worse, which your character experiences throughout the story. Just as events in our own lives change us and help us grow, the same should happen for your characters. If you have a character whom does not change, it will leave the audience wondering why the conflict did not alter their innate characteristics.