CREATING CHARACTERS – A simple guide for writers to decide on those imaginary friends…
You’ve locked your story but are stuck with defining your characters or deciding which ones to introduce and when? Sounds simple but is the most time consuming & demanding cause there is no one fit and budding writers would agree.
In any conceptualized yet unwritten story, the protagonist and antagonist are already defined people (at least these two characters are well-known to you). Similarly, romance would have a boy and a girl (mostly). So you know where to start with for deciding the number of characters involved.
The next question is what about the other characters? What if they seem unwanted and make the story dull instead?
A simple formula is put them and I repeat put them only if and when the story demands it! That makes it easy to decide, doesn’t it?
You know your story well (at least from where you begin and how you end it). You might need fictional characters at points where you are stuck. Writing any story is like a journey… you do whatever is needed to reach the destination.
But what if I have two different ideas for a character at the same point in the story?
Another difficulty is not to decide when the character is needed but how the character is… Well, make it a contrast; keep a blend of various kinds of people that bring novelty for your readers. Every character has to be unique. This was how I chose characters in my book ‘The Pact of Love’ for the protagonist Krish, Radhika (his love interest) and Piya (his bestest friend). Here are few tips for it:
– Let the characters be different thought-wise
If one character is rational and decisive, the other one can be confused and biased. If one is extremely emotional, the other one would be a bit more practical. You can have a variation within this too, where two people with similar nature have different approaches.
For example, Krish and Piya both are capable of solving problems together, but Piya lacks focus (thinks a lot and diverts from the main topic) while Krish is a bit immature (lack of experience in love and life). Krish has to get Radhika (his love) back in his life; Piya is his best friend and wishes to help. Both want the same result but have different thoughts and discuss it together. A conversation between them shows how different they are from each other yet similar at the same time.
It’s not as tough as you thought cause when you start deciding the physical or emotional attributes, you would avoid to be repetitive and yet be interesting as well as meaningful in defining them. That does the work for you!
– Use their past to define the characters.
This is one amazing trick to explore the characteristics and behaviour of a person. A story is ultimately inspired by real life. We as humans change with every passing experience of life. It influences your thought process and decision-making.
So when I show Piya had a breakup in the past and I show her boyfriend Shivaay (who was her first serious crush) turns out to be a cheat and was using her, you can decide how she changes in her behaviour post-breakup. Obviously, this incident would make her a bit reserved and someone who prefers staying in her own world. She becomes more independent and feels love is a pain (and not bliss). Here her past breakup made it easy for me to define her and deciding her character. She isn’t the most beautiful girl in college, a bit shy, clumsy, nerdy and has fewer interactions with boys… that makes her a soft and easy target for Shivaay and helps me define her in detail!
– Use diverse geographies and cultures
This makes the readers connect well especially if your target is this diverse land called India. If I make a character like Piya who hails from Kolkata, India, I could show certain aspects like the food choices, clothing, inclination towards certain art forms and even physical appearances like a round face, dusky skin and big beautiful eyes which natives from the place have. You can’t have protruding eyes for a Chinese girl, right! Just plain common sense and some research would help.
The key is to gain knowledge about different cultures, religions, topographies and lifestyles. I easily use Piya from Kolkata (East India) who migrates for further studies to Mumbai while Krish is born and brought up in the city itself. And Radhika hails from Gujarat (West India). Their eating habits, dance forms, political views and even definition of love would differ. Some more tricks could be to show an urban character meeting a rural one, a foreign migrant meeting a local, a well-to -do person meeting an underprivileged one, a dancer meets a non-dancer, a religious one meets an atheist and so on. But remember to use the differences to make them attracted to each other and not always create a dislike for one another. Nobody likes just negatives in a story, right!
– Choose different professions and explore that piece of information!
Be it a male or a female character; use their career aspirations to the fullest. Work is a major part of your identity in today’s time and it influences your behaviour a lot. Indeed you would feel a love story or a spiritual fiction doesn’t need much of it but trust me it would do wonders. Either your character could be an aspirant, or someone already working in a field or both at different timelines. Different professions show different likes, dislikes, talents and also help in creating a conflict at times.
For example, Krish aspires to be a businessman (owing to his father’s business doing well), Radhika is into dancing (wishes to be a choreographer in movies) while Piya is into animation and VFX filmmaking. Here Radhika is more focused and firm while Krish isn’t much of a career-oriented person (cause he will get what he wants in inheritance). And we all know opposites attract cause one lacks what other has in abundance. He appreciates her talent yet her prioritizing the dance practices over meeting him creates a conflict. Three years later when they meet, we again need to know where they reached in their careers as that would bring about a change in the self-confidence and also at times the level of arrogance and ego in the character. A successful choreographer wouldn’t be as easy to deal with as a failed one, right!
Just keep in mind to research about any career you show, wrongfully quoted facts aren’t appreciated even in a fiction. Be realistic and practical considering their age and possibilities of success or failure by that point in time of their lives.
– Use diverse age groups & gender attributes
A 55-year-old would be matured, experienced and risk averse as compared to a 20-year-old. Again a woman and a man would be different thought-wise and use those variations in your character. For example, if you show a couple in their sixties, show one of them nagging, speaking a lot and dominating while the other one would be quiet, fed up with the spouse or disinterested. Both can’t be the same in their approach as that brings monotony.
– Physical appearance is important
As a writer, you are fortunate to have the internet at your disposal. You can find a variety of hairstyles, eyes, skin tones, body types, face cuts, clothing styles, etc. A challenge here is to decide what fits for whom? Do not decorate it so much that it becomes unrealistic. Create something that your readers could visualize the character while reading about it. Also, make the descriptions a part of your storytelling if possible. For example, ‘She raised her protruding green coloured eyes with astonishment when I called out her name’ sounds better than ‘She had protruding green coloured eyes, beautiful hair blah blah’ or when you write ‘She tried passing through the corner of the table but failed thanks to her obese body and flabby tummy’ it makes it more easy to visualize the character for the readers.
An easier trick is to first perceive a known person as a character. Initiate with someone you know and feel that he or she somewhere fits the person you wish to portray. The more realistic, the more interesting (for the readers) and safer (for you as the writer). You can further make minor changes in the hairstyle or dressing sense based on your character requirements and storyline.
– Be descriptive
Here is the catch! If you are writing as a third person, the game is altogether different as compared to the writing which involves the storytelling by one of the characters. Here the perception you give to the reader about a character being nice, cunning, rude, witty, lovable, etc. changes with the story form. I have in both my books used the protagonist as my character who narrates by himself… Here I would try to show a person to be ugly or rude if that’s how he or she is with the protagonist although that might not be the reality. At a later stage, I need to disclose the real intentions of that character i.e. when the protagonist realizes it at a certain point while still being in the story. Interesting for a writer, isn’t it?
But at both the times, you have to be descriptive using words that fit perfectly and are not repeated several times. You have to use words conveying the same message but in a different style to reinforce your thoughts.
So Krish would find Radhika as the most beautiful girl ever seen even though she isn’t dressed well or has put on weight. I have to justify it to the readers why according to Krish she still looks beautiful (Maybe using ‘simple dressing’ as ‘looks elegant’ card or ‘no make-up’ made her look ‘a natural beauty’). Plus when writing a love story, you have to use amazingly descriptive words be it to define the nature of the person or their looks.
Lastly, my advice to you my fellow writer would be ‘do as much research as you can and try being original’ because that’s the only way to make great characters. Do not make them over the top as great stories are about ordinary people doing something extraordinary in life. Make your characters as much relatable as you can to your targeted readers (for instance a reader of love stories would connect to a character who believes or ever believed in the concept of true love or soul mates). Meet as many new people as you can to be a good writer and give realistic characters to your story.
P.S. I would still say use a few tips but ultimately go with your gut; your story is your baby and only you know what it wants and how to nurture it!