Personalities, mannerisms, beliefs, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. All of this, and indeed more, goes into character creation. That being said, authors can create so many characters it’s a wonder we don’t run around having identity crises all the time.
Kind of like I did last week. Ehem.
Anyway! One of the most essential things to do in a story is create characters, particularly when the story is a part of a series where you never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll run into. But just as with the lore of a fictional world, where you develop everything from the ground up, you have a lot to put into the personality of a singular character as well–particularly the main characters.
That being said, I’ll admit that though it can be tedious, creating characters is one of my favorite parts of writing a story, and many times, it can be the biggest motivating factor for me to actually write it. “Man, I really can’t wait to see his reaction when he finds out that this happened!” Sometimes I want to write a character’s reaction to a particular situation so badly that I have to skip ahead and get it all down before I’ve even reached it in the chronological order of the story.
There are several ways to create a character as well. Some authors like to come up with their looks first, others create the personality traits, and for some, it just depends on the idea for the story they’ve had just how their characters come to life within it.
So it’s my job in this article to provide all of you militant authors with as many tools as I possibly can in order to make the most awesome characters ever! Okay, that’s exaggeration, but I am going to hand over a few potentially helpful pointers! :)
You don’t have to be a psychology scholar in order to invent a fictional person, though having a basic understanding of the topic does help, and a good first step to understanding it in a literal sense is by looking up the definition. (Here’s a link to the wikipedia article just to make things easier! There’s also a whole wikia site dedicated to the subject found here! Note the links open in a new tab!)
But this is only a literal sense, the actual definition of what psychology is, and doesn’t really tell you how helpful it might be in creating a character. But applying it to your characters means being observant, watching how real people act and react to certain situations, and figuring out what it is that makes them tick.
I’ve honestly found that the best way to practice this is by watching people in movies or in video games–specifically video games. Why? In video games, the stories aren’t always as fleshed out as they are in the movies, so it’s harder to tell why a character had a particular response to a certain event. When you take in all of the facts however, and realize what the possibilities are, it gives you a lot more opportunity to really practice analyzing behavioral patterns.
Granted, these are fictional characters themselves, so realistically speaking, they may not be the most appropriate subjects, but it’s still a good way to get started doing this.
2. Personality Traits
Coming up with a list of consistent personality traits for your character is a big key to making someone who’s realistic. So start off by asking yourself how would they react in certain situations, even if they’re never actually faced with those same circumstances in your story. For example, if they were in a group of survivors during a zombie apocalypse, what role would they take? Leader? The scared ally who needs protection? Or maybe the loner?
This can give you more insight into your character’s personality and a better grasp on how they would react to normal situations. For instance, if they’re the loner, it could be due to the fact that in the normal world, they’re a strong, independent person who’s never needed much help in getting by, and may even be a little shy around others, if not socially awkward.
If this is the case, then it’s likely that, for instance, in a romantic situation that actually takes place in your fiction, the character may be much more reluctant to either fall for another, or admit those feelings. They may even end up seeming cold on the outside, though in reality, they simply don’t feel they have the ability to express themselves.
So putting a character in a situation they’re never actually faced with in the story can be a good way to figure out what kind of personality you want the character to have. Of course, plot devices in the story can, and often do have an impact on a character’s personality, so it’s a good thing to keep them in mind when exploring the possibilities.
Is your character a villain? Or are they just misunderstood by most people who encounter them? Ethics are a big part of determining these factors, particularly when combined with their personality traits. For instance, their work ethic could be that one single day of work missed makes a bad employee, which may antagonize another character working for them who ends up sick and has to call in.
So it’s always a good idea to determine the character’s sense of right and wrong, and just how extremely they value those ideals. This can encompass a wide range of beliefs as well, from religious to personal, and can effect the character’s entire goal. For example, would doing something that could be considered immoral be worth it to them if it means accomplishing that goal?
Don’t forget that personality traits will effect these answers. If the character is selfish, for instance, doing something wrong may in fact be worthwhile when it gets them what they want because they don’t care to consider other people’s feelings and/or needs.
This is a very important aspect of planning a character. Everyone has something they’re working to accomplish, being both smaller goals, and more lifelong endeavors. Even if it’s something as simple as never being bothered by other people, it will define their persona more accurately and help bring them to life.
So what would be important? Family? Profession? World domination? Revenge?
Making a list of the things your character would hope to inevitably accomplish, and even adding conflict when one of their goals gets in the way of another, makes for depth and a more realistic individual.
This one can be heavily fueled by psychology, but it can also be a facet of the character’s appearance. For instance, the character may not look his/her age, and get tired of being consistently reminded of how young/old they appear to be. Or perhaps they have a scar in a visible area that they always try to hide (such as wearing a cuff around one wrist consistently even though it’s not exactly “in style”).
Giving these small touches to a character can either have a great deal to do with the plot of the story, or nothing at all. Perhaps, one night, their penchant for checking the locks before bed leads them to spy someone out on the veranda, prompting them to leave the house and get swept up in some kind of unforeseen adventure. Or maybe they just like to wring their hands together whenever they’re nervous.
In closing, all of these elements (and possibly even more) should be considered when developing your character. It will add that touch of realism and depth you need in order to get them to really stand out as actual people instead of just names written on the page of a book!
My last link of a help source is Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality & Background, who I’m not affiliated with, and though it’s a role play character profile creation tool, it can also suggest interesting questions to answer for any character you’re trying to create.
So good luck with your future endeavors, and as always, feel free to comment with your own suggestions or make some addenda to the list already provided!