How Do I Create the Perfect Character?


wiseGEEK Writing Contest

Are you a budding writer, all set to embark on the journey of character creation? If so, you’re about to enter a relationship–– a literary bond–– with the characters you create. A good character will ensure both your sanity and the success of your narrative. Characters must first and foremost evoke interest. Granted, there are many uninteresting people out there, but a fiction writer need not imitate the actual population. Rather, you should aim to create an artistic version of the real world, in which characters convey the concepts and messages you’ll so cleverly be embedding in your literary work. That’s not to say that a character must be charming and well-educated, capable of saying insightful things. Even the most miserly or illiterate character can evoke interest, even humor. Although many people talk much yet say surprisingly little of any importance, you should feel no obligation to populate your narrative with these types of characters. While dialogue is often assumed to mimic real life, secretly taped conversations will reveal why imitation of daily conversation may not be an ideal strategy. Often, people simply engage in small talk that accomplishes little other than reaffirming the obvious–– dialogue interspersed with “ums” and “ahs,” and perhaps the frequently injected swear words. In your story, conversely, you should attempt to create dialogue that seems real, but that is in fact not an accurate representation of real dialogue. Your dialogue should filter out small talk and include only the (unfortunately rare) type of conversation featuring significant ideas and realizations. However, don’t bog down the reader with philosophical talk–– try to disguise your messages in talk that is fairly informal, less reminiscent of a lecture. To be compelling, a character must generally have a wish or desire. Although the literary world recognizes static (unchanging) as well as dynamic (changing) characters, it’s best to assign static characters minor roles in which they, as the Callypso’s and Circe’s of your literary Odyssey, will be stepping stones to the main character’s goal, helping or hindering your protagonist along the way. To avoid stagnating your narrative, give your characters a quest. An irritating trait commonly exhibited by characters is the tendency to wallow in self-pity. Characters must inevitably have problems–– a central aspect of plot is, of course, “conflict”–– yet your character should be relatively tolerable, someone with whom you wouldn’t mind taking a road trip. Since you’ll be dealing with this person for awhile, and since your literary future depends on the reader wanting to spend enough time with your character to finish the story, your character shouldn’t be one of those people you feel like screaming at to “get a grip.” Avoid self-pity–– instead, endow your character with a humorous take on life’s inevitable misfortunes. Though seemingly insignificant, names can have a drastic influence on how a character is perceived. Unlike with babies, it’s preferable to name your character after acquaintance, rather than trying to fit a character into shoes provided by a pre-chosen name. While authors often successfully tailor outlandish names to their characters, be cautious, as there are some connotations of names of which you should be aware. Certain names are considered stronger, or perhaps more feminine, or may even be attached to a real person with whom you may not want your character associated. Due to frequent usage, you may also want to have a shorter name. Although some authors use longer names successfully, yet these are often converted to nickname early on, which means you’ll have some explaining to do before adopting the shorter version. Finally, inquire into the meanings of names. Although you may not consider this important, you may not want to give your character a name that means, for instance, “speckled.” You can expect some people to look up the names of your characters–– I often do. I won’t delay you further–– the bane of the writer’s world is procrastination. Heed this advice, and you will soon find yourself on the road to an exciting new relationship.