In my writing, I’ve noticed that I spend a lot of time building worlds and using descriptive language to tell the story. The one thing that I have always lacked, and hope to improve, is my characters. I know I reference Stephen King a lot. Like a lot, but one thing I keep mentioning about his work is how well he does his characters. Long after I’ve read the book, I can still recall his characters.
So how do you build the perfect character? That’s quite difficult to say, although there are fundamentals we can pick out. You can use these basics for any story, whether it’s horror or Sci-Fi, or Fantasy.
A friend of mine (Nicky from Chasing Dreams Publishing) has some great ideas on how to craft characters readers will enjoy. The one thing I extracted from her post is making characters unique. This may seem like a given, and in your mind you may see them as individuals. It’s how you bring them across that is important. Things like how they speak (voice/tone), how they carry themselves (body language), and how they act.
Everyone around you wants something. A personal goal that keeps them ticking. It doesn’t have to be anything epic (find the special item of immeasurable power) or world domination. These goals and motivations define what is important to your characters and they will act accordingly. Then have something that conflicts with their goal whether it’s a person or a personal trait.
- Character Flaws
Usually this tags along with some sort of cliche. The red-haired is feisty. The ex-cop is a drunk. The religious lady is a crazy zealot. Etc. Most flaws are a little less eccentric, but can be written to be the character’s downfall or lead to something believable yet out of character. For instance, in Dreamcatcher by Stephen King, the one character stopped picked up chewing on toothpicks to get over a bad habit. This later leads to a very fatal end when he’s in a strenuous situation and just needs his toothpick. NEEDS it.
The innocent Jane/John Doe whose life is thrown into disarray after discovering an evil entity in their home/child/parent/school, feels over done. I’ve watched a lot of horror movie trailers (and movies) as well as read a couple of horror book blurbs with this sort of premise. While I don’t always shun cliches, this idea is boring for me.
To change it up, my protagonist won’t be an innocent, ordinary Jane/John Doe. Instead I have:
Profile: Must appear innocent to characters in book yet reader must get a sense of a deeper darkness. A troubled past they have embraced. An uncertain future they wish to clarify and brighten. Broken and hopeful.
Conflict: What defines them is exactly what they want to change. A journey of self-discovery, with very difficult choices that contradict their goal even though it’s supposed to help.
Strengths and Flaws: Carefree attitude allows them to shrug off lots of things, while nursing a crippling fear of the “darkness” within them that forces them to shun people. Troubled past has grown and matured them mentally and emotionally to live an almost normal life, while a small part is mischievous and playful to reconnect to that lost past they wish to regain which causes issues.
Look Around You
Last point. Be observant of the people around you. There are living, breathing characters right in your vicinity and could make wonderful additions and mixes to your story.