What Do Your Characters Risk? Creating Characters

I’m going to apologize now that I’ve been so late posting this. I wanted to have it up on Monday with the follow up articles posted every other day, but with life coming at me hard this weekend, it didn’t happen. Now all the articles will be one after the other.

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For me creating a character is the easiest part of writing, probably because every story I do starts with a character or two. I love Character driven plots. I love to see the characters evolve through the conflict that enters their lives. To me, characters are what move the story plot along.

Developing characters into a 3-dimensional person will bring your story and your world to life for the readers. There are writers that prefer to plan out their characters before they write a word. Others prefer to do it as they are writing the story. While others do a little of both, small plan and write to learn more about their characters.

The best why I have found to make characters real is to ask one simple question, “What is at stake for this character?” If you can answer this question you are a step closer to learning your character’s fears, hopes, motivations, and anxieties. You are closer to improving the quality of your writing. You give the readers insight into the minds of the character and a chance to better understand them. You are a step closer to giving the reader a firm sense of who the character is.

But don’t just stop at the protagonist(s), do this for every character in the book. They all must risks something.  And we as writers need to show the readers what is at stake for the various characters—even if it’s just a passing mention or foreshadow for the next book—because characters that have something at stake are more interesting because they are in danger of losing something if they gamble on a particular character or course of action.

I’ve heard a few suggestions on how writers can do this:

  • Some like character interviewing. For example: Interview the villain about what motivates him. (e.g. Why did you murder X? Why have you sworn revenge on this particular man/family/group of people? What made you decide to run this scam?) ; interview the heroine about what drives her. (e.g. Why is it so important to you to switch jobs? Why do you want to move to a different city? What is it about X that draws you to him? How did you become estranged from your sister?) ; interview characters about a specific aspect of their lives. (e.g. What was the most significant event you can remember from your childhood? What are your political beliefs? Do you have a deep, dark secret? What is one thing that you have done that you would prefer others not to know about? What do you think would be the perfect lifestyle? How quickly can you make decisions?)
  • A freewrite either based on questions about your characters. You can take the ones above or ones like: What do they love? What motivates them? What do they hide from the world? What are they afraid of? Your freewrite can also be just that, free to lead you where it may.
  • Character sketches: I read a book once that demanded a full Character Dossier was called for. Some like a little less work and a simple character sketch.

For me, I found that The Gossip Papers: A Mythical Tabloid for my book worlds helps me learn about the characters, how one might perceive them despite they’re real motivation, and gives me a glimpse into their world. Whatever method makes your characters real to you can help you make them real to your readers later.

Improving the Reader-Character Interaction

While reading the Writer this month (a paid for subscription before I realized I was going to go the Self-publishing route). I came across an article that made me think. It wasn’t necessarily about character creation, but there was a moment when the writer touched on creating characters. The writer, Melissa Hart, drove home the idea that it is not only the protagonist, but every character in the book that risks something.  And we as writers need to show the readers what is at stake for the various characters—even if it’s just a passing mention or foreshadow for the next book—because characters that have something at stake are in danger of losing something if they gamble on a particular character or course of action.

Ask yourself this simple question , “What is at stake for this character?” If you can answer this question you are a step closer to learning your characters fears, hopes, motivations, and anxieties. You are closer to improving the quality of your writing. You give the readers insight into the minds of your characters and a chance to better understand them. You are a step closer to giving the reader a firm sense of who the characters are.

The writer, Melissa Hart, had a suggestion on how she does this. She creates freewrites based on questions about her characters. What do they love? What motivates them? What do they hide from the world? What are they afraid of?

I’ve also heard of authors doing Character Interviews. For example: Interview the villain about what motivates him. (e.g. Why did you murder X? Why have you sworn revenge on this particular man/family/group of people? What made you decide to run this scam?) ; interview the heroine about what drives her. (e.g. Why is it so important to you to switch jobs? Why do you want to move to a different city? What is it about X that draws you to him? How did you become estranged from your sister?) ; interview characters about a specific aspect of their lives. (e.g. What was the most significant event you can remember from your childhood? What are your political beliefs? Do you have a deep, dark secret? What is one thing that you have done that you would prefer others not to know about? What do you think would be the perfect lifestyle? How quickly can you make decisions?)

Do you have any suggestions?