Do you ever feel like going berserk? Smashing your bottles on the ground or driving your car into the person in front of you? To let loose and be a fool, a spawn of crazy, a lover of chaos? I do. Everyone has some sort of demon inside waiting to claw through the defenses. They usually sprout out and get us in trouble at the most inopportune times. But they remind us that we’re not perfect. They keep us flawed—interesting rather. We’ve all got problems and deal with issues. Sometimes we give people a window into their depths, but mostly we just show others the surface.
I think it’s important to keep that in mind when we’re making characters. Sometimes it’s tempting to craft the perfect character. The person we strive to be that has everything together and never makes a mistake. That’s going to make for a pretty boring setup because, as a reader, I have to see someone in a struggle. A person has to change in some way by the end to become the next version of themselves, whether it’s for the better or worse. Someone can’t grow if they’re already at the summit. They need to climb, and it’s your job as a writer to give people those obstacles to overcome. Of course, you can always have polar characters, either mostly malevolent or benevolent, but that can easily make a cardboard character. I talk about how to overcome cardboard character concepts in my post, Change. The shades of gray characters are the ones people will connect with. When I think of a good example of this, I think of Batman. He’s called the Dark Night for a reason. He’s a vigilante, and having to break the rules sometimes to catch the bad guys makes him an interesting character to read about.
As much as I want my characters to have a balanced sliding scale of flaws, this is hard to do. Something that helps with both character and plot development is to imagine the end image of the character you’re creating. Then, after you have that picture of him or her in mind, think of what they have to be in the beginning. Usually the complete opposite of what you have in mind for the end goal works. As you move throughout your story, think of ways to systematically deny the things your character needs to get to that end image. If they’re supposed to be alcohol free by the end, put them in bars or around friends who encourage drinking or stores that sell booze and groceries. While they struggle, mold them into the end image as they overcome their hardships, or fall into darkness if that is their path. Making believable characters is hard, and this process is something I use as an easy starting off point for developing characters. Remember, have fun and be wild every now and then!
[Featured photo credit: David, Bergin, Emmett and Elliott]