Establishing a Character’s Character

Characters must have character.

This may seem an obvious statement, but you’d be surprised how many writers fail to give their characters character.

You must ask yourself what characteristics do I want my characters to have? The answer to that is completely up to you.

Determine if your character is a good guy/girl or a bad guy/girl.

A good character may have some of the following characteristics: Integrity, Courage, Loyalty, Determination, Ambition, Compassion.

A bad character may have some of these: Greed, Hate, Anger, Deceit, Ruthlessness, Dishonesty.

Mind you, characters will more than likely not be this cookie-cutter. And these are just a few of the traits found in each category.  But if you’re trying to establish who the reader should root for, then each of your characters needs some of these traits.

Let’s begin with the good guy.

The last thing you want to do is state, “She or he was loyal, brave and true.” She or he may be all three but it’s a very boring way to let the reader know.

Instead, put the character into a situation that shows the reader how loyal, brave and true she or he is. Like in the paragraph below.

Donovan crept along the cobblestone path to the door of the castle, his hand ever ready on the hilt of his sword. Dawn was fast approaching. He had to get inside, kill the wizard Morgrith and flee before the wizard’s demons found him. He knew he could do this. He must do this. Otherwise, Morgrith would cast a spell rendering King Rodolfo powerless, incapable of running the kingdom. Even so, Donovan’s hand trembled upon the hilt. He knew not what he would encounter in the castle, only that he would deal with whatever lay before him.

We have established that our hero, Donovan, is afraid; his hand would not tremble upon the hilt of his sword if he weren’t afraid. His courage is evident in that he is willing to act in the face of his fear regardless of what he may encounter. His loyalty is to King Rodolfo and he will see his mission through.

Let’s tackle the flip side of the coin. It isn’t enough to state that someone is evil. Show the evil.

Morgrith stood at the window of his study following Donovan’s every move. The demons stood at the ready, awaiting Morgrith’s signal to begin their assault. There was a vat of hot boiling oil and talons and teeth sharpened to a fine point awaiting the beleaguered hero. Let him think one lowly knight could thwart this wizard’s plans to possess the kingdom. He would know otherwise soon enough.

Here we’ve established the evil in our wizard. He’s ready to kill one knight and it shows he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

In order to develop a character’s character, it is vital to force the character into challenging situations. How the character deals with those situations will establish the character of the character, for better or for worse.

It gives the reader a glimpse into the life of the character, what makes the character who she or he is. It enhances the reading experience to know a character will face her or his demons and will be a stronger person for having defeated those demons. It enhances the reading experience even more to see how a character deals with her or his demons.

Because how a character in a story or a novel deals with those challenging situations may well inspire a reader with new ideas about how to deal with her or his own challenging situations.



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