Making your characters different can be a tricky thing. In my book I have a few recurring characters that are present through most of the story. So what makes one different from the other? Simple; their personalities.
Consider yourself, yes you there, the one who is reading this right now. You and I are different. Yes we are (you’re not going to seriously tell me that at one point you went gooey eyed whenever Westlife appeared on the TV are you? Didn’t think so!) We are different. From the things that we like to do, eat and wear to the little things that we say. I have a terrible habit of thinking that everything is ‘awesome’ and I say it on a regular basis. We all have those little traits that make us unique.
Use these traits to your advantage. Consider the relationship that your main character has with these people and build upon it. For example, your main character finds her friend’s brother outrageously rude. If his rudeness is so outrageous, she won’t be the only one that notices this. Even if he is only rude to her, it won’t escape everyone else’s notice unless he is only rude when no-one else is around. Ooo, character building. So, not only is he rude to her but he is also sneaky with it. Why?
Therein lies another thing I consider when I build my characters. What causes a character to act a certain way towards another. Is there history there? Or perhaps he has a crush on her and hides it by being rude? Characters don’t act outrageously about something without a root cause. So remember that when you are writing.
I am going to give you an example of one of my own favorite characters. He is a complex thing but it’s no good that I write ‘he is complex’ – I want to show that he is complex in everything he does, from the things he says to the way he behaves. So, here is a quick example of him:
He is in love with my main character.
He is the only one that has shortened her name.
He messed up royally in the past and now she is not interested.
Because of this, where he used to be sweet, he is now bitter.
However, because he still loves her he is vehemently protective of her, even though she is in love with someone else.
And, because he is so protective of her he refuses to leave her when he knows she is in danger.
She loves him, but not in the way that he wants.
This frustrates him and is a contributing factor towards the bitterness that he feels.
Though she is the cause of his pain, when he is not being a pain in the ass – he is incredibly sweet towards her.
I am totally in love with this character because he is fun. He is challenging to write but I feel he is the character that I like to write the most. The little things he does both amuse and infuriate me but sometimes he is so sweet that I forget all about his bad behavior. His complexities make him who he is.
Think of your character like an onion (oh no, she’s using the onion analogy – yes I am!) There are many layers to their personality. Think about how you want each one of them to behave and why you want them to behave in that way. Think about how their personality dictates their reaction in certain situations. So we know that my male character is overly protective of my main character, so if she were in danger would he try to save her? And what if she needs to do something that will place her in danger? He’s not going to be happy about that but what will he do? Find a way to stop her? Allow her but be there to protect her? Is he so blinded by his love for her and his need to protect her that he will allow others to be harmed in her place? Does she even need protecting by him? All of these parts of his personality need to be considered.
I mentioned that he has shortened my main characters name. These little things not only make your character recognizable to your reader but they also help to maintain consistency.
Always be consistent with even the smallest of things otherwise, your character becomes flaky and unbelievable. Also, consider how you want your reader to feel about your characters. Suppose if the character I mentioned eventually does get his girl, I don’t want my reader to hate him. They need to love him, even with his flaws because they should already love my main character enough to want her to be happy. And, if he doesn’t; I want the readers to sympathize for him.
As much as it would be boring to have a book full of bland characters, it would be equally boring if all of the characters act the same. I have my male firecracker. My strong female protagonist. Her calm but authoritative best friend, as well as a few others.
All of them are inherently different. Some of them will react in the same way in certain situations, for example in the face of danger they will fight but they will fight in different ways. Some are stronger than others so will fight physically while others will use different means to protect themselves.
I find it helps to write down a bio of each character, one that you can refer back to when needed. As well as their personalities, I have a list of their appearances. If you have these character sheets to hand, it helps to stop easily made errors such as someone’s eyes being blue at the beginning of the book and brown by the middle. I also write a little backstory for each because what has happened to them in the past shapes who they are as much as what is about to happen.
So that’s how I approach character building, I hope it has been, if not helpful, at least insightful.
And just so you know, I am over my love of Westlife – so don’t judge! Okay?