Do you wonder if your characters feel real enough?
The manuscript I’m currently working on requires strong character. It’s a fantasy thriller with lots of action, or will have lots of action. My biggest fear right now as I continue with the first draft is that my main character isn’t interesting enough, dynamic or three dimensional. So I have to keep checking in with my characters’ story health. Here’s some things I’ve been studying and gleaning along the way concerning Character.
At the crux of a story is Character. Character is perhaps the most important part of a story, in my opinion. Sure you can have setting and plot, but you need a character to be able to play within a setting and be acted upon by the plot.
Character is defined as any person, animal or figure represented in a literary work. There are many types of characters in stories which are based on purpose and function.
To make your character’s purpose and function appear rich and interesting, they must go through thoughtful Character Development. This refers to how complex a character is in a story. If you can make your characters as complex as possible without being a distraction to the overall story, then they will appear more real and interesting. If we learn how a character thinks, moves, talks, who their associations are and what secrets they keep, then they can be considered well developed. Some characters are complex from the beginning, while others become more complex as the story unfolds, with the plot causing a change within them. Meanwhile other characters show only one side of themselves for a certain amount time throughout a book, then eventually revealing another side to themselves by book’s end. Try to mix an match these types of character developing techniques in one story to give it more impact.
The purpose of character is to extend the plot. Every story must have main characters. These are the characters that have the most effect on a story’s plot or they are the ones most affected by the plot. Examples of main characters are protagonist and antagonist, static or dynamic character, or round or flat characters. A character can fit into more than one of the aforementioned categories or move through the categories as the plot progresses.
Every story has got to have a protagonist aka “the hero/heroine”. Their purpose is to generate the main action of the story and engage the reader’s interest and empathy.
Most stories have an antagonist aka “the villain.” A misnomer about antagonists is that they need to be evil. That’s simply not the case. This character, or group of characters, causes the conflict for the protagonist. Being good or evil is of no consequence. The antagonist could even be the protagonist, who is torn by some inner turmoil. An antagonist doesn’t have to be a single person. They can be society at large, an animal, an object, or nature. If the conflict comes from something or somewhere out of the character’s control, the antagonist is fate or God.
Next comes minor characters. They’re not as important as the major characters, but still play a large part in the story. Their actions help drive the story forward. They may impact the decisions the protagonist or antagonist make, either helping or interfering with the conflict. Major characters will usually be more dynamic, changing and growing through the story while minor characters may be more static.
Here’s some examples of character traits that I found from Literaryterms.net:
- Foil – A foil is a character that has opposite character traits from another, meant to help highlight or bring out another’s positive or negative side. Oftentimes, the antagonist is the foil for the protagonist.
- Static – Characters who are static do not change throughout the story. Their use may simply be to create or relieve tension, or they were not meant to change. A major character can remain static through the whole story.
- Dynamic – Dynamic characters change throughout the story. They may learn a lesson, become bad, or change in complex ways.
- Flat – A flat character has one or two main traits, usually only all positive or negative. They are the opposite of a round character. Their flaw or strength has its use in the story.
- Round – These are the opposite of the flat character. These characters have many different traits, good and bad, making them more interesting.
- Stock – These are the stereotypical characters, such as the boy genius, ambitious career person, faithful sidekick, mad scientist, etc.
The minor characters are impacted by the decisions the major characters make, giving depth to the story line.
Stephen King says in his seminal book about writing, On Writing, that characters are central to a good story. I would agree. King believes that as long as you have a great character, someone who is fully realized, you can throw them into any scenario or plot and you will have a decent story. Fully developed characters, who react realistically, will add gravitas to any plot.
Does my main character feel real? Is he reacting truthfully to the plot in the way I have established him? Is she changing? Will she change by the end? These are all questions I must ask myself. It is a checklist that I need to keep referring back to. At this juncture, I need to take a day and sit back with my main character and double-check if he is hitting his marks.