Wait, we’re seeing the effects of NaNoWriMo so soon? Yup. I’m taking the whole NaNoWriMo thing very seriously. As a result of this, and also to gently break myself into planning, I started out by working on sorting out my characters. I love creating characters, and I find more and more that they are key to the story, so it’s not too hard for me to plan my characters out. Because of this planning though, I figured I may as well rant on my thoughts behind characters. This is far from perfect, being an in-between class piece of writing, which means two fifteen minute stints, then another fifteen minutes of my lunch break to finish it. I also focused mainly on protagonists. Still, hopefully you learn something, though, considering all reading this are probably veteran writers, you probably won’t. Feel free to tell me what I missed/messed up on in the comments. I’ll probably argue back, but we’ll see won’t we? 🙂
Characters. To a story, there are a number of key elements. Setting, plot, characters, theme, etc. Don’t come to me with conflict, that goes under plot. Anyways, all these are important, and I feel that a good plot probably ranks first, but characters certainly fight strongly to be a close second. Without one or the other, the story is going to be a flop. In a sense, characters control the plot as much as the plot controls them.
That sentence may sound paradoxical, but it isn’t really. A good story should focus on telling a convincing and intriguing plot, but this should be told through the characters. The protagonists in your story are the senses you reader uses to feel, explore and experience the wonderful, fantastical world that you as an author are setting before your reader. In order for your reader to explore and understand your story through, your characters, several things should be present. Naturally, rules are for breaking, but knowing what the rules are to break is usually handy.
In every book, there is a main character. The role of the main character is for the reader to have a tangible link to the story, something that can be sympathized with. There are several ways the reader can connect with the main character. One way for an author to connect his/her main character with the reader is to give the main character a higher sense of honor and “goodness.” The protagonist is then someone the reader wishes to be.
The “average” main is a second way in which the writer can breach that fourth wall and pull the reader’s sympathy in. In this kind of character, the author strives to make the lead as human as possible. This means standard moral conflicts, no superhuman powers, and day-to-day issues. These issues do not have to embody exactly what one experiences today. The idea behind this concept is that the character and his experiences provide an analogy for the reader’s normal life, usually with some sort of twist.
Finally, we come to my personal favorite; the anti-hero. This is probably one of the most dynamic kinds of characters. The concept is to have a likable villain or a despicable hero. Contradictory? Yes. This reason lends for many different interpretations for the character. One kind of anti-hero possesses his own moral code, usually mostly still ethical, but with modifications that lend for controversy. Another type of anti-hero does morally correct things in immoral manners. Yet another kind of anti-hero is almost villainous with a good streak. The reason the anti-hero poses such an interesting protagonist is because he brings with him numerous intriguing moral questions. Not only that, but it leads on into another important characteristic of main characters; the character arc.
Any event, no matter how big or small, changes anyone it comes into contact with. The character arc then enters into the picture. Its goal is to change the lead in a projected idea based on the protagonists initial characteristics and the circumstances around which the plot is based. Usually it involves initial misconception, the discovery of something new, or change in beliefs. Usually the final result is better than the original, providing an uplifting tone to the story, and giving the reader that “warm, fuzzy feeling inside” after having read a good book.
Another key to convincing characters is a well structured backstory. Characters cannot appear from nowhere. They all have a background which influenced them to become who they currently are. Masterful manipulation and careful reveals and glimpses of a character’s past intrigues the reader, and has them asking questions about who exactly the protagonist is, where he/she came from, what in the past makes the MC make the decisions he/she does. It draws the reader in, enticing them for more.
Yet another key point to characters is their foils. That’s basically fancy writer lingo for their opposing counterpart. It’s analogous to the way in which good cannot exist without evil, happiness without sorrow, hot without cold. The foil does not have to be the polar opposite of the main character, though it can happen. Usually, the foil opposes the other character(s) in one or two major characteristics, and can share other, milder traits with its foil. Effective use of a foiling character helps bring out both good and bad attributes, and works as compare and contrast.
In conclusion, characters, important? Most certainly. Of course, they give no author the excuse to neglect other parts of a story, but that does not lower their importance in any manner. Effective planning and a solid understanding of the different characters in one’s story allows for more solid decisions both in what the character does, and how he/she changes. Not only that, but it gives the reader of the story a tangible link to events that may otherwise feel foreign.