Clumsy Characters = Chaos

Perhaps a little dramatic a heading, but the fact is that if characters are described/portrayed in a vague or awkwardly constructed fashion, the result will lend itself to chaos, also known as confusion.

What’s makes for vague or awkward characters?

Those that have:

minimal descriptions  ♣  they all have eyes and are either male or female, but there’s not much more to let us know what they look like

similar descriptions  ♣  all have dark eyes and are tall

identical speech patterns  ♣  they utilize the same jargon/slang or sound the same

alike reactions  ♣  their eyes open wide with confusion or fear (regardless whether they’re detectives, criminals, boys, girls, teachers or waitstaff)

stereotypical personalities/appearances/mannerisms  ♣  they read like characters found in countless dramas, novels, soap operas

little or no depth  ♣  come across as vapid or weak (there’s no backbone or spirit, not even a hint of personality).

If characters come across as dull or lackluster, readers won’t be inspired to continue reading.

Make your characters compelling, appealing.  There should be “something” about them—something that attracts us to them as readers (or “viewers”, as we do visualize the scenes).  Or repels us.  If you’re going to have a villain, make him or her chillingly evil or sad, or compassionate—but memorable.

Think of fictional persons who’ve captured our/your attention: Columbo  /  Steve McGarrett  /  Alex Delaware  /  Jack Torrance /  Macbeth  /  Hamlet  /  Elizabeth Benet  /  Jessica Fletcher  …

WPpaint1The writer in me always likens the creation of a character to the painting [completion] of a canvas.  The final picture should captivating, powerful. 

Generally, we like [love] characters who are trustworthy and supportive, keep promises and play fair, and have objectives [and missions] we can relate to or empathize with, among many other attributes.  Additional likable qualities: they love animals, are helpful, stand their ground, and fight for unfairness [without complaint].  And it never hurts if they’re really good-looking and fit, funny/witty, and [relatively] brave.  Think: personality.  What makes a character tick?  What makes him/her resonate?  Think of everyday folks who have that je ne sais quoi.

That said, don’t go overboard and make characters overly good or villains excessively bad.  We all have failings, but we all have virtues.

Give your central character(s)—the protagonist(s)—an intriguing skill/talent or pastime.  Maybe your hero/heroine is a detective with a remarkable track record.  He/she has many friends, can fight well (has fists like a prizefighter) but only engages in a skirmish when absolutely necessary.  He/she is attractive, tall, slim, and fit/toned.  But so are lots of detectives.  So provide dimension.  Perhaps he/she scuba dives on the weekends and volunteers at a homeless shelter two nights a week?  Perhaps he/she takes cooking classes?  What’s your character’s history and background?  What motivates him or her?  Paint that detailed/vivid picture!  Give that character something to make him/her, yes, stand out.

And don’t forget to give your protagonists the odd challenges.  Let them feel and express feelings.  Dilemmas and issues occur in real life that feed on/off emotions; the same should hold true for fictional characters.

More on character development in the future.  Happy painting!