Five rules on how to create really awesome characters

I originally wrote this as a guest post on The Blog of The Young and Enquiring, but I've decided to share it here as well because I'm a lazy slob and I can't be bothered to come up with an interesting and original post right now.  Enjoy!

I love reading and creative writing, and I know that one of the hardest parts of writing a story is coming up with good, realistic, believable characters. So I’ve put together a list of rules to follow when coming up with characters:

Rule 1: People aren’t perfect.
It can be very tempting to make your characters have only positive characteristics and no negative side, especially if you’re writing a romance story, or something to do with superheroes. Don’t. It’s not realistic. Everyone has negative aspects; it’s what makes us human. And let’s face it – who likes a goody two-shoes who only does good things? Give your characters a dark side – it makes them a heck of a lot more interesting, and convincing too.

Rule 2: People don’t behave in ways and do things for no reason.
Bad guys don’t just wake up one morning and think, “hey, I’m going to be a bad guy.” There’s always a reason behind their behaviour. Perhaps something happened to them in the past that made them turn over to the dark side. Your past influences what you do in the present – for example, someone who is very kind to people might behave that way because she knows how harsh life can be, or that grumpy old guy who hates children only acts that way because his daughter died when she was young, and he’s been hurting ever since. Coming up with characters’ backstories gives them a more complex personality, and, again, makes them more interesting.

Rule 3: People evolve.
Life changes you. Your views on life change constantly. Say your main character is a sweet, innocent schoolgirl who believes that everyone is good deep down, who becomes a witness in a murder, and gets kidnapped and almost killed, and ends up watching her best friend die – by the end of the story she will be a very different person to who she was at the beginning. She will have realised that life is no fairytale and bad things happen; her views on life will have changed drastically. If they haven’t, it wouldn’t be believable at all. However…

Rule 4: People don’t have sudden personality changes.
I know this sounds like I’m contradicting myself after the previous point, but there’s a difference between “evolving” and “changing”. Have you ever read a book where one of the characters is really mean, and then suddenly becomes a good person (or vice versa)? I’m thinking of Hans from Frozen, here, actually: one minute he’s all kind and caring and the next he’s evil? What’s that about? It drives me MAD when that happens! I mean, I get that someone might be faking their personality, and pretending to be nice when they’re really not nice at all, but you have to make sure it makes sense, and it’s reasonable. If one of your characters IS going to change personality, foreshadow it in some way: make your main character (and your reader) be at least slightly suspicious of him, so when he turns out to be a big fat phony, it make sense in a way.

And now for the fifth and most important of all…

Rule 5: Really KNOW your characters.
The best way to create a strong, believable character is to really be inside your character’s head. Know what their personality’s like, know what makes them tick, know them better than you know yourself. Know what they look like, what they sound like, know what weird mannerisms they have. Know their pasts. Know their futures. Know exactly how they’d respond to any situation. Know every single stupid little detail about them. Even if you don’t put something in the actual story, YOU know it, and it’ll help you know your characters better.

Well, that’s it from me. I dunno, hope this helps someone? 

Stay awesome,

-IndigoSky

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