I’ve been neglecting my blog for longer than I care to admit. Writing and publishing has taken over my life but I’ve missed blogging and connecting with people. So today I decided to share my thoughts on creating characters. I wrote this guest post for another blog last June for the release of The Sentinel’s Reign. Unfortunately, the blog in question is no longer active but I really enjoying writing this and wanted to share it with you.
It’s all about character
Writing characters that touch readers is something I’ve always wanted to achieve. Raised on a diet of David Gemmell and Robin Hobb, authors who create such vivid and heroic characters, how could I aspire for anything less?
When I create characters they stem for a tiny seed of an idea or a scene that just pops into my head. I allow them time to grow naturally while I jot down some scenes. Later I go back to flesh out the details and build upon their history and how it has influenced them. They soon become like people I’ve known my whole life.
Some reviewers have pointed out how my character, Tei, is immature at the beginning and rebels at the situation she’s thrust into. With time and experience, she starts to mature and accept her role. That feels like a natural progression to me. Who would like to wake up in the morning and be told ‘By the way you’re off to save the world today, go pack your bags.’
I like how characters slowly reveal themselves to the reader. You don’t meet people and find out their life story in the first 5 minutes, although I have met a few people who do tell you everything and I wouldn’t want to embark on an adventure with them!
Characters are the lifeblood of any story. I can’t imagine writing anything without starting with a character. However vague and unknown, all I need is a character in a situation and then I’m away writing and the ideas start to flow.
When I think about my books – Visions of Zarua and Silent Sea Chronicles trilogy – the characters are what make the whole process worthwhile. I love them like family and I feel the pain and heartache they suffer. I urge them to find the courage to fight on even if everything is set against them.
I’m drawn to things with strong, heroic characters, be that in books, films or TV series. So with this in mind I thought I would share my tips to creating those kind of characters.
11 Tips to Creating Heroic Characters Your Readers Will Love
1. Let the characters find you
I cannot sit and draft out a character from nothing, instead they need to come to me. It starts with a situation, a scene or just a snapshot of the character in my head. I write and develop on that first impression and see who has come to tell me their story.
The Silent Sea Chronicles started with a young woman lost in the forest. With her father dying, she was completely alone until two strangers arrive. From that tiny beginning, a trilogy has grown.
2. Flaws all the way
No one likes a perfect person and if your character is perfect, it’s unrealistic. There is no room to develop and change over the course of the novel. Flaws make the character. Tei is immature and naïve at the beginning of the trilogy, but by the end my readers have commented on how much she has matured.
Both Brogan and Farrell are driven by the need to do what’s right, but that is also their flaw because they have to make difficult decisions that costs lives.
3. Everyone loves an unlikely hero
It is a troop, especially in fantasy, but the fact is if the hero of your story starts out unwilling and is thrust into situations they are not equipped to deal with, they will become better characters for it.
A word of caution though – make it for the right reasons not just to fit the story.
4. Give them backstory
Characters are shaped by their past and it gives them greater depth if the reader can slowly learn about the history of the character before the story takes place. It makes them seem more real, as though they live beyond the pages of the novel.
5. Make them suffer
Everyone in life suffers. The more your characters suffer, the more they can develop. Plus it would be boring to read (and write) about a character that doesn’t have any life changing events happening to them.
6. Allow them to love
Emotions help the reader connect with the character. Whether that is love of family, friends or a love interest. To me that love, and what the character is prepared to risk saving it, defines them and the book you are writing.
7. Allow them to grow
All great heroes need to learn how to become a hero in the first place. Showing that growth will also help the reader connect with the characters.
8. Let them make mistakes – the worse the better!
How else do we learn as human beings? How bad the mistake, how many others are affected, or die because of that mistake is up to you. The darker the outcome, the heavier the burden your character must carry.
Tei feels her decisions have led to people dying and this shapes her decisions and the relationships she forges. Brogan too feels that his decision, or what he perceives as cowardice, lead to catastrophe events.
9. The path to happiness is never easy
Like most people, I like a happy-ending. But I want my characters to battle for their lives to get there.
Often, as with life, that moment is bittersweet. Not everyone can have a happy ever after, it’s just not realistic.
10. Kill off your darling – literally!
My motto whilst writing the Silent Sea Chronicles has become ‘No one is safe!’
It makes the plot less predictable to the reader and hopefully sparks some emotion in them.
If a book makes me cry then I know it’s a good one. I want to evoke that same feeling in my readers. I know the emotional response will be different for every reader, but the Silent Sea Chronicles has made me cry, so if I can’t please everyone, at least I have pleased myself.
11. Villains matter
The villains your heroes are up against can be larger than life evil, as long as they have a motive to act the way they do. And make sure they are a worthy threat, and have a credible backstory too.
A final note about characters.
I have created characters I would want to be friends with, to love or to have as a family member. I even care for my villains, who aren’t all bad deep down.
To make the reader care about your characters, first you, the writer, must care deeply for these wonderful people that inhabit the world you have created. Hopefully your love will shine through in the writing and the readers will form those same bonds and root for your characters too.
I hope you enjoyed my tips on creating characters and I hope to be back with more tips soon.
Suzanne Rogerson – Author of epic and heroic fantasy
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