Can you all believe that we have half a month left until Nanowrimo!? Who is freaking out right now?! *Raises hand*
Because I just finished Shapeshifter early October, I am a bit late in prepping for my next Nanowrimo novel. I love my new idea, it’s different and ambitious and I can’t wait to give it a go. That being said, it is 99% out of my comfort zone so I am a bit scared but that’s what writing is all about… right? RIGHT!?
THE one thing that I love most about writing is the characters that I create. Without characters that I can relate to and care about, I wouldn’t feel motivated to write. Same for our readers! A captivating plot is important, but excellently developed characters may be just as important (and arguably more so) to keep a reader engaged. So, for this week’s Preptober post I want to focus on the 6 things I keep in mind when I am crafting my characters.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional writer – just a fellow blogger who loves to write and wants to “make it” one day. These are some things that I think about when I create characters for my novel, and in a sense this post is meant to be a discussion post rather than an instructional one. So……. Discuss away, people!
PS. I’ll be using Six of Crows as an example because it has a brilliant cast of strong and well-developed characters. In case you haven’t read this book- no worries, I’ll make sure you can still follow along (and of course, NO spoilers here.)
You know what they say: don’t judge a book by its cover and it’s what’s inside that counts. I absolutely agree! Your characters don’t have to have a flawless appearance (in fact, I’m a big fan of characters who aren’t perfectly coiffed), however investing time in crafting your character’s appearance is important for several reasons:
- Your readers will have an idea of what your characters look like.
- You, the writer, can ensure your characters’ appearance remain consistent from chapter to chapter. It would be confusing if your MC has blue eyes on page 15 but green eyes on page 200!
- There is the opportunity to relate specific features of your characters’ appearance to their history or their personality traits, and vice versa.
Keep in mind characteristics that your characters are born with (hair colour, eye colour, height), as well as characteristics that your characters choose (make-up, tattoos, hair dye, fashion style).
In Six of Crows… Kaz had pale skin and short dark hair. His eyes were dark brown and appear amber in sunlight. He had a sharp jawline and lean build. He had two tattoos. He had a limp and carried a cane with a crow’s head as a handle.
(Credits to Grishaverse for this description, which I took the liberty to paraphrase.)
2. Goals and Motivation
Everyone wants something. What do your characters want? It is important for characters to have motivations and goals, so that us as writers and readers can understand them. The one thing that disengages me from a novel, whether I am writing one or reading one, is when I don’t understand a character’s motivations.
Motivation is a general direction of a character’s desires. For example, a character may be motivated by wealth, power, status and/or the adoration or company of others. Meanwhile, a goal is a target that is more specific and concrete. It could be a long-term goal, such as becoming the President when they grow up, or a short-term goal, such as robbing a bank next week. A character may have more than one motive and more than one goal.
All of your characters’ actions in the novel should be in line with their goals and motivators. Characters can be unpredictable; in certain cases we do want to generate a sense of mystery by keeping a character’s goals and motives hidden from the readers, however we as the writer should know these!
In Six of Crows… Kaz was motivated by wealth, which gave rise to his goal to plan the ultimate heist on the Ice Court. Perhaps even more so, Kaz was motivated by his thirst for revenge.
We all have strengths, and characters should have them too. These may be superficial: A character may be exceptionally beautiful, they may be physically strong or super smart. They may also have strong personality traits: perhaps they are sociable and can fix any awkward situation, they may be charismatic and a natural leader, or they may be fiercely loyal to their friends and loved ones.
Just like how we are drawn to people with these traits in real life, readers are drawn to characters who are #$%@*&% awesome. Giving each character one or few strengths will make them likeable. Don’t we all love reading about characters who kick butt?
In Six of Crows… Kaz was superbly intelligent and cunning, capable of calculating and predicting others’ behaviours and crafting elaborate schemes around them. He had charisma, allowing him to successfully motivate a group of very different people to accomplish a singular goal.
However!!!! Even more important than strengths are…..
Yup. You heard me. Your characters got to have FLAWS. For the longest time I was afraid to give my characters flaws, because I wanted them to be likeable. But the thing is, perfection does not equate to likability. The truth of the matter is that everyone has flaws, including ourselves and our readers. Giving your characters flaws will make them more human and more relatable.
By the way, these “flaws” don’t count:
- Clumsiness… because it usually has no impact on the storyline.
- Self-consciousness about their own appearance, when in fact they are beautiful to everyone else (cue eye roll please).
- Mental or physical illness/disability: Don’t get me wrong, it’s great when books touch upon these, but they should not count as character flaws.
So what kind of flaws should our characters have? Is there a key to choosing our characters’ flaws? Here are a few things that I like to keep in mind.
- Flaws should be apparent to the reader. Does our character fear public speaking? Well, there better be many speeches in our plot!
- Flaws should impact the plot. Perhaps it is because of a character’s flaw that they make a crucial mistake which has a devastating impact on their mission.
- Flaws may or may not improve. If our character begins the story as an addict and ends the story as an addict, that is perfectly fine. Or maybe they recover, that’s fine as well.
- Flaws may be related to or resulting from a character’s past, though this is not always the case.
- Certain character traits can be viewed as strengths or weaknesses, depending on the situation. A sensitive character may be a great listener and always willing to help a friend, however they may be prone to overthinking and take criticisms personally.
Remember that strengths and weaknesses should be a balance. Too many strengths and your characters will seem too perfect, too many weaknesses and they might just be too sad to read about. Balance is the key!
In Six of Crows… Kaz’s weaknesses were his fear of intimacy, lack of trust and extreme secrecy about his past and his motivations. Although these traits allowed him to create schemes with cold, calculating precision, they were not always beneficial to himself or his group as a whole.
This is everything that happens before the main plot of our novel. Think about how your character grew up, how they spent their childhood. What were their parents like? Who were their friends? What did the characters learn from their upbringing that made them who they are today?
In Six of Crows… Kaz and his older brother sold their family’s farm and moved to the city, leading to events that would shape Kaz’s character and motives.
This usually is not a problem for our MC(s)! After all, the story is their story. However, let’s not forget our secondary characters. How do they view the events in the novel? Your secondary characters shouldn’t revolve around the MC, they should have lives of their own. After all, everyone is the star of their own movie.
In Six of Crows… the main story was about planning and executing the heist on the Ice Court, but each character faced their fears and came to terms with unresolved questions in their pasts.