In the last post, I talked about developing a premise. You can check it out here. This week, we will talk about creating characters.
Characters are the foundation on which a story is built. They are the most essential part of developing your story. The premise is your guideline to what sort of characters you will need. So how do we connect them?
First, you need to look at what your premise tells you about your characters. Going back to my example from my earlier post, we have:
An aloof goddess who devours the souls of the damned is accused of treason by her father’s mortal enemy and must clear her name before the souls of the dead overtake the world.
This premise tells us what kind of character we need (an aloof goddess), what her role is in the world (she devours the souls of the damned), where the conflict is (she is accused of treason by her father's mortal enemy), and what the stakes are (the souls of the dead overtaking the world.)
This leads us to look at what other characters we need. Let’s make a list of the characters that we know we need to create just from the premise.
1. Main Character (MC)
2. MC’s Father
3. MC’s Father’s Mortal Enemy
Looking at our premise, we are probably going to need a few allies for each of the characters we’ve listed and maybe a love interest just to add another layer of conflict.
4. MC’s Ally
5. MC’s Love Interest
6. Father’s Ally
7. Mortal Enemy’s Ally
Now, let’s talk about how to create and develop each of these characters, starting with the 2 most important characters - the MC and the Enemy.
There are several things that you need to know about your characters to create conflict. These go beyond the physical appearance of the character, the habits and quirks, and even the back story of the character. This should be done for every character that has more than a “walk-on” role even if they don’t appear on screen, but their actions affect the story in some way.
For example, my MC’s father doesn’t appear until the end of the story. The majority of the story though is shaped around the MC’s search for him and her relationship with him is one of her internal issues. Even though he doesn’t have much of a role in the story, I still have a character design sheet filled out for him. This shows me the places where he influences the story.
On to the basics of character design.
What personality traits lead the character to be successful? Are they intelligent, cunning, perceptive? Look at your premise to determine what sort of qualities your character will need.
What personality traits lead the character to failure? Are they greedy, impatient, have a short temper? These traits should be in opposition to the character’s strengths. If the character is intelligent, then perhaps they are also naive. If they are cunning, maybe they are also impatient or have a short temper. The weaknesses should offset the strengths in some way.
Who is the character in direct conflict with? It could be more than one person. But like strengths and weaknesses, the character’s opponent should be a reflection of them in some way. They don’t necessarily need to be opposites. As an example, let’s use my MC from Moonlight & Jade. She is independent, observant, and intelligent. But she is also arrogant and aloof. She takes her duty seriously. Her opponent is persistent and tenacious, but he’s also petty and narcissistic. He has her same weaknesses but taken to an extreme. This allows the MC to identify those same traits within herself and can incite her desire to change.
How does the character plan to resolve the conflict? What steps do they plan on taking to end the conflict with their enemy?
What does the character ultimately want to achieve? Do they want to dominate the world? Crush the enemy? Create a utopia? Why are they participating in this conflict?
What does the character need to change within themselves to succeed? What weakness is holding them back from being successful? How does this prevent them from reaching their goal?
What lie does the character tell themselves that prevents them from changing? This is the key to their internal conflict. Why don’t they change? For my MC, she believes that the other gods despise her for what she can do, and therefore she doesn’t need them as friends or allies. She uses this lie as a shield to protect herself from being emotionally vulnerable with others.
What secret does the character have that they would do anything to protect? Not all characters have an immense secret. But when they do, it creates another layer of conflict. Even small secrets can feel large to a character and can help to drive conflict into the story. For example, my antagonist not only wants to destroy his brother and niece, but he also wants to trick his niece into devouring his father’s soul so that my antagonist can take the throne. It is a big part of what drives him.
How does the character plan to reach their goal? What sort of steps do they need to take? This doesn’t have to be detailed. Just a few ideas to get your character moving.
10. Moral Choice
What two things will the MC have to choose between that will challenge the changes they’ve made? What will they have to give up to reach their goal?
What does the character need to realize about themselves to make their change? Example: MC realizes they must forgive the people who hurt them in order to move forward.
12. Changed Character
What kind of character does the MC become at the end of the story? Example: Cynic to Leader or Child to Adult or Rebel to Leader. The idea is look at the archetypal role of the character in the story and decide where they start and where they end. This will help you shape the story.
Who is the character battling in the end, and what does that battle look like? Again, this doesn’t need to be elaborate. A few sentences to give you an idea about what the end of the story looks like for the character.
14. New Equilibrium
What does the character and the world like after the battle is won? This is important because it shapes what your ending will look like and how the character responds. Did they get what they wanted? Are there still things hanging in the air that need to be resolved in a future story?
If you would like to use this template for designing your characters, you can download it here.
Plotting Part 3 will be about connecting Conflict to Character. Stay tuned.