Writing Club: Creating Complex Characters

Photo 2013-10-25 11 53 42 AM - Version 2

Welcome back to Writing Club. In this post we will talk about Creating Complex and Intriguing Characters, but first a little warmup…

5-minute prompt:  HAIR

(5-minute, stream-of-consciousness exercise, write whatever pops into your brain on the topic. Don’t bother with sentences, paragraphs, or punctuation. Just write.)

Everyone had fun with this topic, lots of hair descriptors, colours, cuts, styles, and accessories. All of which can come in handy when we describe our characters. Can you give us a clue to your character’s personality simply by describing his/her hair?

Creating Complex Characters

Plot is what keeps you going when you read a story, character is what stays with you. – Ann Charters

When inventing characters for your story, the goal should be to conjure up fully rounded characters, complex enough to be realistic, and unpredictable enough to remain interesting but not so unpredictable that their actions seem random.

Writers and critics may argue over how ‘likeable’ a main character needs to be, but one thing is certain: your reader must care about what happens to your main character. And it’s easier to make the reader care if the character is likeable.

For the most important characters in your story, it can be very useful to write character sketches for each of them. In these you can figure out their backgrounds, personality traits, habits, feelings, fears, goals. The more you write in these before beginning your story, the easier it will be to proceed – it will almost feel like you have a living, breathing person inhabiting your story, and it will be easier to know what they would or wouldn’t do in a given situation.

To help you out with this, I’ve put together a Character Worksheet pdf you can use to flesh out your character. (Naturally you don’t have to fill in every blank, but the more you write the better!)

Making Your Character Likeable

Here are a few factors that can win affection for your main character:

dorothy-holding-toto-wizard-of-oz-75th-anniversary-lifesize-standup-poster1. RELATEABILITY – Can you relate to the character? Are they in some way just like you? The more human, or flawed, a character is, the more they seem just like us: not always certain of the right thing to do, fearful at times, just trying to do their best.

2. SYMPATHETIC – Do you have sympathy for this character? Everybody loves to cheer for an underdog! We feel immediate sympathy for the small and vulnerable, the young, anyone going through hardship or in danger. (Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz covers all points, with the added bonus of a little dog in danger – who could resist that?)

Frodo_Baggins3. WINNING PERSONALITY – Does the character have the same qualities you may look for in a good friend? (Loyal, brave, clever, funny, caring, etc.?)

4. INTERNAL STRUGGLE – If we can see that a character is struggling within him/herself somehow, then we cheer for their better self to come through. (This has the added advantage of giving a character the element of unpredictability too. What will they do next? Will Frodo in Lord of the Rings succumb to the awful power of the Ring?)

more on characters in next post: Introducing Your Character

New Words

Here are a few gems we’ve shared recently:

vesuvian: 1. of, relating to, or resembling the volcano Vesuvius; 2. marked by sudden outbursts (My Math teacher is rather vesuvian; we never know when she is going to blow up!)

hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia: the fear of big words

muggle: 1. (from Harry Potter series) a person who has no magical abilities; 2. (skilled or specialized groups) a person who lacks a skill or is not a member of a group

psychedelic: 1. (n) Any psychoactive substance (such as LSD) which, when consumed, causes perceptual changes (sometimes erratic and uncontrollable), visual hallucination, and altered awareness of the body and mind; 2. (interjection, slang) Awesome, cool, groovy.

oblivious: (adj) 1. Lacking awareness, unmindful, unaware, unconscious of; 2. Failing to remember, forgetful.

sufficient: (adj) 1. Equal to the end proposed; adequate to wants; enough; ample; competent; 2. Possessing adequate talents or accomplishments; of competent power or ability; qualified; fit.

insurgent: (adj) 1. Rebellious, opposing authority; (noun) 2. A rebel, guerrilla, freedom fighter.

amity: (noun) 1. friendship

theist: (noun) 1. One who believes in the existence of a god or gods.

And in a new feature, here is your moment of …

Grammar Zen

It’s = 2 Words

Its = possessive

It’s an incredibly common mistake to mix these two up! The apostrophe tells you that “it’s” is made up of two words: IT IS. Whenever you see or write this word down, pause and read it as IT IS. Does the sentence still make sense? Then you have used it correctly! If not, you probably want “its” instead.

It’s a bad idea to drop a china doll on its head.

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