How To Create Compelling Characters.
We need to Create Compelling Characters in order that the reader can identify with them. In an article on Characterisation on the website, writersworkshop, we are advised that
the real secret of good characterisation is to understand your character well (from the inside, as though you were that person) then make sure the book is as true to that person as you can make it.
Start with the plot
I’m sure all writers have their own ways of building their characters but I start with the plot. At the start of writing a novel I often have no idea where the plot will go, but I always know what the conflict will be. Knowing the character gives me a hint as to how he would attempt to overcome the particular obstacles in that story.
In the first novel in the Aurora Trilogy, Chasing the Wind, I knew that I wanted to set the book in the folk scene in the late sixties. That in itself meant that I needed to research sixties behaviour, dress etc and particularly the folk music scene. Without the research it would have been impossible to create compelling characters.
Before I write anything, I imagine. In my mind, I build the world in which my character will live. I have already pictured the places he frequents, the people he has as friends, his family members, his likes and dislikes, the contents of his wardrobe, his accommodation, and so the list goes on.
The Character’s History
Then I ask myself, given the situation he is in right now, what is his history? It helps to write the whole history before I begin to shape the character. Firstly, I draw a family tree. I may well add to this as time goes on, but I need a basic outline.
Ask yourself questions about each member of the family and how they relate to my main character. For example, Bobby has a grandfather that he knows nothing about, he has a sister who he doesn’t get on with. I image the family until I know much more about them than my reader, in order to create compelling characters. The majority of the information that I put together is never used directly in the book.
Get Inside the Head of Characters
I need to get inside the head of my character
so that I know how he thinks, how he is likely to react. It
is important to know his vulnerabilities, what he keeps hidden about his character. Ask yourself what it is that drives him. What body language does he use? Does his face hide his feelings or is it very open? Does he behave differently at home and with his friends?
Attention to Detail
Picture every detail about him. I know his height, weight, skin tone, hair colour and length, eye colour, and even the size of his shoes. I ask whether he has dimples, any distinguishing marks, does he wear glasses.
In fact, I would expect to know my characters as well as, if not better than, my closest friends. Not forgetting that there must be a little mystery if we are to create compelling characters.