Every beginning writer has been there. Lost in that confused state of how to create the best characters for your novel. Well, here are my writing tips for how to create memorable 3 dimensional characters…
- Choose a name no one has ever heard of. Not necessarily for lesser characters but definitely for your major characters. I have three types of characters when it comes to my novels. Major, Major-minor, and cameo characters. They’re all self explanatory. But for my Major and Major-minor characters, their names are always unique or their nick-names are unique. So you don’t have to have an original first name. But the last name or their nickname had better stick in your reader’s minds or they have no reason to remember them after chapter one.
- Make sure their physical characteristics aren’t cliché. Not every character in a novel needs to be pretty or handsome, because not everyone in the real world is pretty or handsome. Keep it real. Don’t be the shallow, cookie-cutter writer that always has to have perfect looking characters. Give them a scar or two or more. Have a crooked tooth. Fat. Short. Pockmarks from acne. Strange markings if they’re from another planet. Have some balding with a comb over if the character’s age calls for it. Have one tit bigger than the other from a botched boob job…whatever. Just give them something that makes them unique.
- Hurt your hero. That doesn’t mean your hero is the protagonist. This is a hot topic for debate on the pro/antagonist. Just because they are your leading character doesn’t mean they can’t be harmed. The more you put them in difficult situations, the more your readers will wonder how in the hell they’re going to get out of it and respect them when they do get out of it. Maybe they don’t fight their way out of it at all. Perhaps someone else saves them, thus forming an unlikely alliance. Whatever, just don’t make it easy for them. They might lose a leg or an arm or whatever. I’m not into mutilation…I’m just saying…At the end of True Grit (Matt Damon & Jeff Bridges) the little girl lost her arm. In the last Christopher Nolan Batman film, Bruce Wayne was so fucked up, every ligament and tendon was shot to shit. He was a mess. The lives they lead catch up to them. Mentally, emotionally, and physically. Never forget that. Because your readers won’t. And they’ll ridicule you for it if your characters always get away with everything.
- Education and training. Be it bureaucrat, warrior, king, queen, knight, bonafied nerd, witch, wizard, whatever…they better have gotten that way somehow. No student gets good without a master and masters were once students themselves. Be sure to make it known.
- Give them habitual flaws. A stutter. A limp. An eye twitch when they get caught in a lie. It doesn’t matter what it is. Everyone has a tell when they’re angry, nervous, scared, or excited. You have one as well, I’m sure. So do I. Don’t forget to give your characters one as well.
- Dialogue and dialect. This is a huge one for most people. For me, my dialogue flows freely. I don’t struggle in this area. Not to boast, but I’ve been told I do dialogue very well. I can’t offer you any advice on this one. Either you’re good at writing dialogue or you’re not. This is what can kill a novel. I hate to be the wet blanket on this one, but I have to be honest. Work on your dialogue. If you’re not sure if your dialogue is good, write a chapter and have a close friend or relative read it for you. Ask them for their honest opinion. Telling you what you want to hear, instead of what you need to hear, isn’t going to help you gain loyal readers. But here’s some tips: Keep it real. No one speaks perfectly. Your characters shouldn’t either. Unless they’re from another planet where they’re expected to speak perfectly in whatever language they use. But on earth, no one speaks with perfection. Give your characters a southern twang, or a British accent. A lisp. Slang from whatever city or state they’re from. If they’re from another country, throw some foreign language in there. From another planet, there’d better be some alien language in there. If you have a problem with creating a character’s dialogue and dialect, sit around and listen to people. Don’t just hear them. Listen. Learn to soak up conversations like a sponge. I’m a good writer, because I’m a good listener. I’ve picked up a lot of smart assed remarks and rude comments for my characters just by sitting back and listening (and laughing) to an argument or two.
- Next, find your prose. Every writer has a different style of writing. They found it by following the one author they adore. Me, I have several. But I developed my own prose by reading my favorite authors over and over again. Don’t copy anyone’s work page by page. That will get you a nice, pretty law suit. Instead, look for all of the things that you love about how they write. Short, fast fight scenes. Their attention to detail. Or how they write about blood spray. Or how their action scenes are always raw and gritty with none of the pretty shit. How they write humor and so forth. **I can’t emphasize this enough…they only way you’ll write good novels is to read good novels. Read, read, read. You’ll never find your prose if you don’t find your muse.
- Read bad books. I know this sucks. But just do it. The only way you’ll know what a good book reads like is to suffer through what a bad book reads like. It will be a battle getting through each chapter, but when you do this, get a notepad and pen and write down everything about that novel you couldn’t stand. Predictable characters, or forced love scenes that didn’t seem organic. Offensive words in a sex scene that read more like a porn flick than making love. A scene that was meant to be funny, but didn’t make you laugh. Typos all through the novel as if they never met an editor before they decided to put it out among the masses. A weak antagonist who is no true villain because they’re not a real threat. Or an obvious hero that never has any true conflict you can relate to. Or a plot that you could predict down to the letter after the first chapter. Write down everything. Then keep that list beside you or saved on your laptop as you write. I call this The No-No List. So while you’re working on your own novel, you’re keeping this as a constant reminder of what never to do to your readers, because you hated the fact that some crappy, unpolished author did it to you.
- Don’t give everything about your characters away! Leave something to be pondered by the reader. Reveal your characters slowly throughout the novel series. Your readers should be discovering something new about your characters in every novel. If they’re not intrigued by the third or fourth novel, you dropped the ball somewhere with revealing your characters. They should never be predictable. Your readers should know that you (the author) will come out of a bag on them at anytime. Your readers should never feel safe with your characters. It keeps them turning the pages. It keeps them wanting more. So don’t give it all away at once. You’re readers deserve better than that.
- And lastly, don’t treat your readers like they’re dumb. Give them some things to figure out on their own. You don’t have to explain every little thing about your characters. This floats closely to #9 stated above. Don’t give it all away. Give your readers something to ponder over and think about. Your readers love being the smart ones. Let them. (It’s even more fun when they think they’re smart enough to figure it out and you go to the left on them when your character does something they never saw coming. That’s the beauty of writing.) So keep it unpredictable.
There’s my 10 tips for creating vivid, three-dimensional characters,
More tips to come, until then…Happy writing!