If you’re new here, I feel like it’s important to let you know that plotting, planning, and character development are my most favorite parts of writing. Crafting a person with a detailed backstory is the stuff of magic and I never get tired of it.One of the most rewarding aspects is developing my main characters and exploring their histories and personalities. Before I start any project, it's imperative that I know seven key elements about my main characters to ensure success in any attempt at creating strong character arcs. Keep reading to learn more about how each of these topics can provide an interesting foundation for your next book!
1. The protagonist's backstory and motivations for taking action in the story.
Delving into the protagonist's backstory and understanding their motivations for taking action in the story results in a character that resonates with the reader and with me, the author. This formation of their past experiences and upbringing offers a unique lens through which helps me figure out how they interact with the world around them. Exploring the contrast between who they were raised to be and who they have eventually become as the tale unfolds adds depth and intrigue to the narrative. The connection between characters and readers is formed. A connection that encourages them to root for the characters as they strive to overcome obstacles and challenges. This emotional investment enables the reader to appreciate and empathize with the character's journey, transforming an ordinary story into an exploration of the human experience.
2. Their goals and biggest fears.
Understanding the main character's goals is essential as it establishes the driving force behind their actions and the overall story. When I’m aware of the protagonist's desires and aspirations, I become invested in their journey, root for their success, and empathize with their struggles. Their goals often serve as a roadmap that guides the plot and shapes the narrative theme. Their biggest fears can significantly impact the story’s trajectory, as well. Not only do these paralyzing anxieties provide depth to the protagonist, but they can also introduce tension and conflict, and move the plot forward. When a character confronts and overcomes their greatest fears, this typically marks a pivotal moment of growth and transformation.
3. Their behavior around other people, both friends and enemies.
A character's behavior around people, whether they are friends or enemies, tells us a lot about their personality. By observing how the characters respond to difficult situations with other people, we can get clues about their values and sense of morality, loyalty, and trust. I can infer what kind of relationships they have built with those around them as well. Simply put, it is through analyzing a character's reactions to others that we can truly understand its individual identity!
4. How the character feels about themselves.
Self-perception and how it alters or improves their worldview provides insights into their motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and conflict resolution styles as they navigate challenges or confront their own insecurities. Recognizing how characters view themselves may also help readers empathize with their struggles, which could make the story more engaging and emotionally stirring. Delving into the character's self-image creates a multi-dimensional personality that evokes genuine emotions from the reader.
5. Their plans for the future.
When I’m not sure what comes next, revisiting my character’s goals is super helpful. A person's plans for the future can have an incredible impact on the way their story unfolds. Unfurling this knowledge provides a deeper understanding of their desires, aspirations, and the driving force behind their actions. It shapes the way I perceive and connect with them, making it possible to empathize and buy into their individual growth along their journey.
6. Their physical traits and mannerisms.
Knowing the physical traits and mannerisms of your character can reveal a wealth of information about their nature, strengths, and weaknesses. This is about more than how my character looks, though that plays a part in it. These aspects serve as essential cues for readers to connect with the character on a deeper level. The way a character dresses, their body language, and their speech patterns can expose their background, professions, or social status, and offer insight into their experiences, beliefs, and motivations. Attention to physical details and distinctive mannerisms can add depth and nuance. Funnily enough, this is the thing that most Black readers crave. It’s also why we know that simply casting Black characters isn’t enough to appease that desire.
7. The internal conflicts they face and the obstacles that could present throughout the story help the character grow.
Internal conflicts and external obstacles play a vital role in character growth and development. It’s the thing readers want to discover as the read the story! By exploring their beliefs and values, I gain a deeper understanding of the character's motivations and the driving forces behind their actions. As these characters face challenges and confront their vulnerabilities, they often evolve and change. Engaging with their internal struggles helps me to relate to and empathize with their journey more profoundly, which makes it easier to create a well-rounded and memorable story. When a character overcomes these obstacles, it can impart valuable life lessons and insights. Not that I pride myself on telling parables or fables, but sometimes there’s a bit of a lesson layered in.
From understanding a character’s backstory and motivations for taking action to exploring their goals and fears, knowing my characters inside and out is essential to my writing process.
Authors, what do you need to know about your characters before you start writing?