Some might not agree, but the modern era (actually, just like the times which are now a history) values books as all-time companions and a magical key to a reality we have no other way to access in real life. No matter if the idea of writing a story showed up in your head like a goal or a personal challenge. It could start with the teacher assigning you a narrative essay. You might want to write a short story as a gift to your significant someone. The idea could just get stuck in your head, buzzing like a fly, wishing for you to let it out. The result remains the same: once you have found yourself wanting to write a story or a whole novel. What to start with? Once you have the idea, it is high time to think through the imaginary individuals who will help you bring it to your reader.
Starting a Character Creating Project
It is better not to start writing without at least a general idea of what your characters should be like. Here two main reasons why it is vital to take your time while thinking your characters through:
- The plot is the basis; it would lead your characters through the story and keep the reader interested. Still, what is more important is the “aftertaste”, the idea that remains with the reader after they have finished turning the pages. Your main character is a powerful tool in creating such an effect. First think why you need this character in your list, and then use them for this purpose.
- The character has a right to speak for themselves, while the author can only use the character’s dialogues and descriptions to communicate with the reader. Therefore, this imaginary person is your voice in the story.
How Many Characters Should I Include?
The rule is simple: create as many as you can so the story is not overcrowded and your reader does not forget who is who. When it comes to numbers, here is what we get:
- It is better to use 3 main characters for the story. 1 is good for the psychological short story, more like a monolog in prose, but it is not enough for a plot. When there are 2 there is lack of conflict, which is crucial to keep the reader glued to the story, but it can work for some short stories that do not require multiple plot twists. 3 are the optimal variant both for the novel and a little bit shorter pieces.
- The total number of people in your short story would better be no more than 5-6, in a novel about 10 (not including the bartenders, taxi drivers or smiling neighbors that only have a line or two in the dialogues).
Additional tip: Imagine you are telling your friend a story from your life. How many people are enough to mention so the friend understands everything? This is exactly how many you need for your short story!
What Is a Most Common Mistake?
The character is the representation of a person in a narrative or dramatic work of art, which means that allegorical animals that can talk in fairytales are a representation of a person, too. Most of young authors make the same mistake: they think, that their main character should be a representation of them. However, the authors are not quite objective while writing about their antagonists, they usually make the character prettier, smarter, stronger or luckier than they are, but with just the same life story. Be sure that if a person wants to know how you live, they will ask you, but your idealized persona is not someone the reader can refer to. The same goes to the Pierrot-like sad side of you with all your daily problems. The reader has their own; they want to dive into something that differs from their daily routine.
What Should Be Done?
Your aim is to think of a character that can be sympathized and loved. It must be someone who does not resemble anyone else. Yes, it is hard. You should describe the character as believable and realistic, therefore, even in a fantastic story your protagonist is not supposed to have too many magical powers and abilities. As well, do not describe the female one as “the most beautiful in the world” or use the comparison “stronger than all lions of the jungles” for the male one. The first one is objectifying, the second can only be used as a hyperbola and not as an actual feature.
A Special Feature
By this special feature we mean some kind of attitude, words and phrases, jokes, haircut or a detail of clothes that will make the imaginary person stand out of a crowd. Think of all the characters we call charismatic, like Draco Malfoy or Lizzie Bennett from Jane Austin’s novel. They are memorable yet not typical or predictable. They are not idealized originally, making their resemblance with a real person striking and their actions logical.
Additional tip: Make a short list of characters you like and analyze them as a reader and a writer. What are their special features? Why do they draw attention? Why are they needed in the piece of writing?
Additional tip #2: Think of the real people you find charismatic and analyze the features that would suit an imaginary character, that make this person inspiring or, on the contrary, unpleasant if you need an antagonist.
Description of the Character
If you are not ready to go through a lot of theory to find out what are the tricks of effective description, remember at least one thing: never describe the character as if your reader is a taxi driver who has to pick them up on the street! You are the Creator now, so create your way to describe this person in a better way than, “Bradley was about thirty, tall and blonde, strong as a crocodile” and so on. The best way to achieve a good description is to try to describe this person as if somebody else perceives them. Yes, perceives and not just sees. Check the example by N. K. Jemisin in the novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: “The madness still lurked in his face, but it was a quieter madness now, not the rabid-animal savagery of before. Something else – I could not bring myself to call it humanity – stirred underneath the gleam.” Feel how the image crawls under your skin and try to do the same with you reader, even if it is only your literature teacher.
The next article will tell more about the archetypes existing in literature, so check it out if you are interested.