It’s hard to overstate the importance of strong characters in a narrative. Think of all of the characters from your favorite novels (Scarlett O’Hara-Gone With the Wind, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Dorothy-Wizard of Oz).
Your goal as a writer should be to have your characters stay with the reader long after they finish the story. The reader should connect with them, see them as real people, and feel as if they know them…or wish they did.
You have to know your characters before you introduce them in your story. J K Rowling spent 5 years doing complete biographies on all of the characters in her Harry Potter series before she even started writing the novels. It’s that important.
- What does your character look like?
- What are your characters’ thoughts?
- What actions and deeds are typical of your character?
- How does your character talk?
- What is your character’s name?
Love your characters, but don’t be afraid to let one go if he or she isn’t working for you. When you lovingly create a character, warts and all, it shows. Take your time and be thorough. Chances are, if you fall in love with your character, the reader will too.
Make every character unique. This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but it’s important that even minor characters have something that distinguishes them from everyone else in the story-something to make them more than a name on a page. This distinguishing trait or tag could be anything, and as insignificant as chewing a toothpick or always saying, “exactly!” Perhaps the character has flaming red hair or walks with a limp.
Your minor characters only need one distinguishing trait/tag but your main characters need to be more complex. They should have 4-5 distinguishing traits and at least one on the negative side. Nobody’s perfect. You want your characters to be believable and relatable. The negative trait doesn’t have to be a serious flaw, just one that makes the character real.
Writing a novel can take a long time, and it is important to be able to quickly remind yourself what traits a particular character has without having to thumb through pages of work. Creating character profiles can save time, prevent inconsistencies, and help you build upon individual journeys. I remember thumbing through pages of my manuscript looking for character information, then I got smart and started cheat sheets/ profiles for each character.