25 Things About Creating Characters

As a writer, creating characters is probably the most important thing you do. Get it wrong, and the story will be wrong no matter how well plotted.

Here are 25 things to know.

  1. Characters that have everything they need and want in life are pretty damn boring.
  2. In the real world, strong female characters go by another name: women. Try writing about them.
  3. Not every character needs to have some past trauma simmering beneath the surface to be interesting. Well adjusted people can be just as deep and complex if you give them the right goals.
  4. There’s a difference between being quintessential and being a cartoon, but not a big one.
  5. Watching a character fail but keep trying is usually more interesting than watching them succeed.
  6. Don’t judge your characters—even the villains. If you do, they’ll lack truth. Instead, find out why they are the way they are, and accept them for it.
  7. Often what we remember most about memorable characters is how they interact externally—think, Mulder and Scully, Romeo and Juliet, Lucy and Ethel. The interaction, the relationship, these are traits in and of themselves.
  8. Real people sometimes like lascivious and licentious things:  porn or weed or orgies, or porn, weed and orgies—you get the idea. So, why can’t your character like some of these things, too?
  9. Sometimes they should die.
  10. A name is a terrible thing to waste, and it can shape your character more than you might think. Choose wisely.
  11. There are no recipes for great characters, but if there were — the chef would probably create something simple with a few, fresh and fantastic ingredients instead of a plethora of overly processed junk.
  12. Archetypes are for people who are too afraid to be creative.
  13. Even an evil character who’s evil for evil’s sake has redeeming qualities that allow us to empathize. Find them and play them up.
  14. It’s okay if the character’s gender is the last thing about them you decide.
  15. At a base level, every character wants the same things: food, shelter, sex — how the these primary instincts, the id if you will, interact with the ego (personal identity) can be an endless source of exploration.
  16. Just because a character lives in the past doesn’t mean she has to conform to outdated stereotypes.
  17. They all have flaws, and it’s the flaws that make them who they are.
  18. In real life, we strive to avoid conflict. But in fiction, characters who always agree have no life—at least, not one worth reading about.
  19. A character’s back story is the least important thing in the story.
  20. Don’t be surprised when a character you’ve created does something you don’t expect. That’s called magic and you should just get out of its way.
  21. The thing your character wants most might never surface in the story, but it still drives every. single. thing. they. do.
  22. Real people are seldom interesting enough to make great characters. Create, don’t imitate.
  23. They don’t always tell the truth.
  24. Likewise, they don’t always say what’s on their minds.
  25. When drawn correctly, when given goals and even just a few layers, most of the other details fall into place.