Alrighty my people, it’s time to get to the good stuff. As amazing as your plot may be, your story will flat without compelling characters. There should be four posts in this series (Since I already did the Antagonist post.) but we’ll see what happens.
In this post, I’m just going to cover the basics of character creation. Or, what I consider the basics at least. When I start a story, these are the things I make sure I know about them before I begin writing: name, age, basic features, family, any special skills, occupation, and what they want.
There are some people who are able to just think up a name they like and use that for their character. Then there are the people who agonize over their character’s name for hours, searching through baby name books and surfing the internet. I think I fall in the middle. Sometimes I just know the right name, and other times I’ll use ‘MC’ while plotting the entire story.
No matter where you fall on this spectrum, there are a few things to consider when choosing a name.
- Is this the same name as some other main character in a popular book? I’m not saying that this is a deal breaker, but often if you’re using the name of someone else’s character, you’ll in advertently end up modeling your character after their name sake. You need to consider the similarities of the two characters before you name them. For example, let’s say you’re totally in love with the name Harry for your character. Well, if your character has black hair, green eyes, and glasses, or if he’s the Chosen One….. You really shouldn’t name him Harry.
- Is the name really hard to pronounce? This tends to be a bigger problem for fantasy writers. You want to have your names all sound unique and otherworldly- and forget that your readers want to be able to pronounce them. When I read Eragon for the first time, I was unaware of the pronunciation guide in the back and just made a sort of white noise in my head when I cam across names I couldn’t pronounce. (By the time I discovered the pronunciation guide it was too late, my made up pronunciations were ingrained in my mind.) So, either make your names pronounceable, or put a guide in the back. Maybe both.
- What does this name mean? Now, sometimes this really doesn’t matter. But if you’re like me, it matters A TON. When I first started The Wolves of Wullferg Keep when I was twelve, I didn’t even think about names. So when I picked the project up again, I was originally going to change Emily’s name. Dray sounded like a good fantasy name, so his stuck, but even though I liked the name Emily, I thought it had to go. Until I looked up it’s meaning.
Of English origin and a variant of the Latin name Aemilia, derived from the Latin ‘Aemilius’, this being an old Roman surname which itself is derived from ‘aemulus’ meaning ‘rival, trying to equal or excel, emulating’.Some Baby Name Site. I Forget Which One.
Just before I looked up her name, I had named her inn The Rival, since she stole everyone else’s business. It was so incredibly perfect. My favorite way to get names (since I write exclusively in fantasy) is through Google Translate. In the sequel to WWK, We are Alpha, the antagonist is another Dire Wolf who has lost everything and gone insane. So I plugged in ‘broken’ in google translate and ended up with the Swedish translation ‘Sondrig’. I don’t know how many times I’ve named characters like this, but I love it.
- Last but not least; do you like the name? Once you get to a certain point in your story, you can’t change their name. I mean, you can, but it’s really hard. So when naming your character, make sure it’s a name your good being stuck with.
This is pretty self explanatory, but I do have two things to say about it.
- When deciding the age for your character, make sure they’re old enough, or young enough, to actually do what they’re doing. One of my biggest pet peeves with a lot of werewolf stories is that the Alpha is in their late teens, early twenties. And they’re supposed to have the responsibility of the entire pack on their shoulders. Unless your character is a super mature, responsible, level headed 19 year-old, he probably won’t make a great Alpha. Which could be a fun plot but that’s not my point. Just make sure that your character is old enough to do what their doing. Please.
- Tell people how old your character is! In Alliance of Wolves, I didn’t say my character was 21 because I thought it was obvious he was young. Well, after I’d written the whole dang thing, I found out that two of my friends thought my character was 40. We had a good laugh, but had it been already published, I would’ve fallen to the ground sobbing. Because he marries a 19 year old. I mean, that would’ve been weird if he was 40. Just a little.
- I don’t condone the mirror scene where the characters describes themselves or really long physical descriptions. However, you had better tell me enough of you character’s features that I can picture them in my head. In WWK, I realized that I hadn’t Dray at all other than he had gray eyes. That was it. I was horrified to say the least.
- The reason you should know their basic physical features before you start reading is so you don’t contradict yourself. If you say their eyes are blue in one chapter, you’d better not say their brown in another.
But their family isn’t part of the story! Big deal. Family shapes people like nothing else does. Your character wasn’t born a garbage fire, they turned into one people of outside influences. Know your character’s family. They can add in SO mUcH conflict.
If your character is the CHosen One or something along those lines, you’d better know why. But there are some things to keep in mind when choosing these special skills.
- Keep it realistic. But I’m writing fantasy! Shut up and listen. When I say realistic, I mean don’t stretch your book’s believability. If your character can control all four elements, talk to animals, read minds, create portals, and fly……you’ve stretch believability. I’m sorry, having overpowered characters isn’t fun. We want to watch them struggle, and fail, and eventually come out on top. You can’t really do that with an overpowered character. What about villains? If you have an overpowered villain, either your MC is going ot have to be way overpowered to defeat them or the way they defeat the villain will be off. Your villain can absolutely be more powerful than your MC, in my opinion they should be. But only to a certain degree. Like I said, don’t stretch your believability.
This is more important than you think.
- What skills has your character gained from their occupation? Even if they work retail, they’ve gained some skill. They’re probably going to be patient, or at least able to act patient and they know how to deal with difficult people. If your character’s a taxi driver, they’re going to know the city really well. Even the most mundane occupations can add something to your character. (Hey, guess what? This goes for real life too!)
- Your character’s occupation can lead to plot. Let’s go back to the taxi driver. Let’s say he has two passengers one night, who talk about some shady stuff. Let’s say your taxi driver has always wanted to be a detective. Badabing, badaboom- you’ve got a plot.
What They Want
This is what leads to plot more than anything else. What does your character want, and how can you keep them from getting it? A good way to figure this out is to think about the lay out of fairy tales. They either always start with things as they should be, loving parents, wealth, happiness, and then they take it all away or they start with things as they shouldn’t be. Think Cinderella. She had a loving family, her other died, her father married a horrible woman. Things are not as they should be. And what does Cinderella want? To go to the ball, but we can assume she also wants happiness, because, come one, who doesn’t? We know what Cinderella wants, and her stepmother is what tries to keep her from it.
Look at your character. Are they already in a bad spot? What was their life like before it was horrible? Maybe they want what they lost. Or if their life has always been awful, they want what they’ve never had.
YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHAT THEY WANT!
They can want more than one thing. Let’s say your character wants peace and security, and wants to a certain girl to fall in love with him, and wants to keep the Dark Lord from taking over. (Shhh. I know this example is super cliche.) With those three things, you have an internal struggle, an external struggle, and one in between. Subplots guys!
Like I said, these are the character basics. The next thing we’re getting into is types of characters. You know, Morally Grey, Chaotic Good, etc. etc. It’s gonna be fun.