A crucial element to any story is the strength of the characters involved, their consistency, credibility as real people and enigmatic qualities. A plot, invariably comes second to strong characters, need evidence for this? Consider Sir Arthur Conan Doyleâ€™s Sherlock Holmes, a universally loved novel, yet can you describe in detail any of the plot lines, like you can recite memorable characteristics of either Sherlock or Watson?Â Strong characters are what people remember, thus, strong characters make for successful storytelling.Â
Having said this, here are a few general guidelines on what to do in order to create strong characters, and conversely, how to avoid creating weak ones.
What to do and what to avoid
When conjuring up a strong character, it is best to avoid basing them solely on one figure in the real world, including yourself. By basing characters on people we already know, writers have a natural tendency to become too emotionally invested in the character, resulting in characters void of anything but emotion. Also, it is always rather pleasant avoiding the visitÂ to court on the grounds of an invasion of privacy.
Rather, formulate characters from your writing, let them emerge as you write. Do not list qualities or characteristics quickly, as it doesnâ€™t allow for a natural connection between the reader and character to materialise. Never, during real-life first encounters, are you confronted with a list of personality traits. You get to know people over a period of time, simulate a similar experience in your writing. Allow your readers to get to know characters through their actions and inactions, their interior dialogues and their interactions with other characters. In addition to this, by keeping your character elusive for longer, you retain the reader’s attention.Â
Ensure that these developed characteristics remain consistent throughout the story; think of Jay Gatsby in Fitzgeraldâ€™s The Great Gatsby. Itâ€™s evident from the very beginning that Gatsby was a dreamer, leaving his poor family in search of greater things and living under a false name. From this, weâ€™re exposed to more dream-like qualities, such as his fantastical parties and impossibly perfect mansion. He is little more than a name to anyone, having only acquaintances who deify him in his absence. It is quite clear that he embodies the American dream, and it’s this dream like characteristic which eventually kills him, an unattainable conquest to win Daisy.
Naming your characters
This rather undiscussed point has been tactfully left till last, like assigning names to your characters should be. Since it takes the length of a book to fully understand and know your character, only then, when you have finished it can you think of a suitable name; which fits the characters personality, and depending on their relevance in your story, how memorable it is. For a snappy, emphatic name, consider using alliteration, such as Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22, or Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In contrast explore the idea of assembling your own word, such as Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.
In sum, the notable role of strong characters within story telling justifies a significant amount of time being endorsed into their creation. To reiterate, avoid basing characters on people you know of, in addition, do not list qualities of your character, instead weave them into your story. Subsequently, ensure these established characteristics are kept consistent throughout the novel. The process of naming your characters is also of great importance, due to the impact names of characters can have on readers perceptions of the book. Leave the naming of characters to the end of the story, when their personalities have developed enough to suit a name.
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Written by Isabel Shaw