Character Guide by Kathleen White
When creating a character, you need to decide his purpose. Is he going to be an antagonist or a protagonist? Why is there a need for this character? Once you have decided that, you can work on what kind of character you want.
Age, personality, and appearance should be well thought out and generally will influence each other. If your character is a teenager, he should act like it. He would have most of the concerns most teens face and (assuming he is from Earth) would dress like the teenagers he is used to associating with.
If he is an adult, then things get a little more complicated. Is he in his twenties, thirties, sixties, etc? These things all come into play when figuring out how he would react to other characters and situations.
Having a background for the character is just as important as knowing what he looks like. Everything he has experienced in his lifetime will shape his personality. You can’t have someone just show up out of nowhere, act like he has all the answers, and not know why. His background will also shape his dialogue and other interactions. Someone who was just your average bookworm with no extracurricular activities isn’t going to suddenly fight light a black belt.
Mannerisms and Speech
Consistency is key here. If your character is used to speaking with proper grammar and an air of aristocracy, he’s not going to look at someone and say “Hey, what’s up? How’s it hangin’?” If his general manner of speaking changes, there needs to be a reason. Either the formality was just a show or something is going on in his mind that you need to know. As the writer, and the creator of that character, it’s your responsibility to have an explanation for those changes if the reader asks.
A character’s actions should suit his personality. If he’s the kind of person that takes the moral high-road, then he is going to severely disapprove of the idea of killing someone, even in self-defense. This should be expressed in his actions. He would likely protest the incident or even try to stop it.
While it may seem strange to think about this, even if you only plan on using the character once, it does merit some thought. What does the character want out of life? What are his goals and ambitions? How does he plan on accomplishing them? These things will shape your characters actions and add a little more depth to him.
One of the things to keep in mind when working with a new character is how he would interact with the other characters and how they would react to him. Very few people will accept something at face value. They are not going to instantly trust or sometimes even like him.
With this in mind, I strongly caution against creating an original character to act as an immediate love interest without any explanation or build-up. While the cliché of “love at first sight” seems prevalent in stories, it’s rarely the case, and when it is, it’s often one-sided. The readers are also likely to resist a drastic change in emotion like that, especially regarding a stranger. If you bring a character in as a love interest, it needs to be a gradual transition.
Given the nature of fiction, especially sci-fi and fantasy, it’s possible that you would want your character to have a special ability; something that makes him unique. This could be something that could benefit the protagonists or something that would make him a challenging antagonist.
One thing to keep in mind is that there has to be an explanation for his abilities. Was he born with them? Is he even human? How well can he use them? Also remember, you can have a very strong character, but no one is invincible. If he’s an antagonist, there has to be a way to defeat him. If he’s helping the protagonists, then he should be helping them, not doing all the work for them.
Along those lines, if he is helping the protagonists, then usually, he shouldn’t be stronger than them. If he is, then there has to be an explanation.
If you are writing an action-based story, you have to be fair to the characters involved. If there is excessive fighting, people are going to get hurt, including your own characters. Any large-scale battle is going to have casualties. You can’t send the characters into a fight and have everyone get hurt except for your favorite. I can almost guarantee that your readers will definitely not be happy with that, or with you.
Characters can enhance your story or ruin it, depending on how you use them. A well thought-out character can give your work an extra boost, but a transparent one can turn a potentially wonderful story into something that the reader might not enjoy