It’s a challenge for most authors to write captivating fictional characters. Story premises, plots, and concepts are worth nothing if the characters aren’t fully fleshed out, but writing great fictional characters is no easy task.
The first step to writing great fictional characters is establishing the character’s background. Use yourself as a reference point–what makes you who you are? How did your background affect you and impact the choices you made, are making, or will make in the future? How does your background shape you, change you, and form you as a person?
Using these ideas, develop a background for your character, and make sure to consider how this will affect your story. If Felicity grew up with an abusive father as an only child in New York City, when her boyfriend proposes to her, she may refuse because of the relationship phobia that came into occurrence after living with an abusive father. If Jack was the golden boy who had no trouble catching girls, being the star quarterback, and getting great grades in high school, that would explain his cocky personality.
The best tip to help you develop a character’s background is to ask yourself questions like the ones you asked yourself earlier: my character’s anger problems are chronic–what background could I develop to go along with this story? How would this background influence my character? Developing your character’s background adds more dimensions to your character and makes them seem like real people.
A good character, even if he is an introvert, becomes truly three-dimensional when he interacts with other people. The same trick applies to real life–people judge others after seeing how they interact with the people around them. Similarly, readers will understand your characters better after they see your characters in a social situation.
Let your character build relationships with other characters. The more complex the relationships, the better. While building these relationships, use the background you developed, reflect on it, and think about how the character would act in a certain situation. For example, if the Jack we talked about above got turned down by an ordinary-looking girl in a club, would he meekly apologize and end their relationship there? No way! Jack’s background shows that he would pursue this relationship by either harassing the woman until she gives in or getting angry at her.
When introducing other characters your characters have relationships with, try to add another level of depth to each relationship. Was the girl who turned Jack down at the club his brother’s ex-girlfriend who was put into rehab for murdering Jack’s brother? How would that change and develop Jack’s character? Don’t be afraid to get complex and gritty. The further you explore, the better results your characters will yield.
In fact, not only should you encourage conflict, but it’s a must-have in any story! Conflict is what causes characters to become anxious, what helps readers root for them, and the number-one cause of personal development in characters. Experiment with as much conflict as possible that you could inflict on your character. Referring back to Jack’s example–what if his brother’s murderous ex-girlfriend is out to get Jack next? What if she kidnaps him? The tension here is tangible and will definitely help a character grow in the eyes of a reader.
When developing conflict, think about how your characters would deal with this conflict based on their relationships and their background. Jack’s background might lead him to underestimating “an ugly girl,” and that could get him into serious trouble. Or his relationship with his deceased brother could cause him to drop his arrogance once and for all and fight his brother’s ex-girlfriend with everything he has. When you create the obstacles you’re setting out for your characters, imagine scenarios in your head and play out different options. What would happen if she made this choice? Would this conflict work, or are there any better ones?
Also, the same way complexity is better with character relationships, be complex when creating conflict. Who wants an easy, one-step problem characters can solve within the first twenty pages? Not your readers! Build rings of tension, and piggyback off ideas you’ve already formed. Little conflicts can be stemmed from bigger ones, and this makes your characters even better.
Each of these three tips can work individually to help you write better fictional characters. But when you combine them, when their different helpful features interconnect, you produce a character that seems almost breathing, walking, and talking. Use a character’s background to weave in some meaningful relationships–or use those relationships to create conflict. In conclusion, apply your character’s background, relationship, and conflicts together in your story to create the best possible fictional characters you can.