Many elements make up a worthwhile story. Without a good plot, and a solid plan of execution, our stories may sag in the middle, fizzle at the end, or just plain fall head long into the did-not-finish slush pile. A shuddering prospect, for sure. There is pace and tone, and ebb and flow, to keep our readers riveted. A vivid setting our readers can visualize is another major aspect of the tale. All these elements are important—and not a small feat to accomplish— if we want to write captivating stories.
There is an additional element that I believe is even more essential, and that is character development. We want our characters to be real, with flaws and hang ups just like us. As readers, we want to feel their pain and celebrate their victories. So how do we make them real? Just as there are numerous ways to fulfill the other requirements that make up a meaningful story, every author has their own personal formula for creating memorable characters.
Characters can be given a personal profile sheet with their physical attributes, which isn’t a bad idea if you want to maintain consistency in traits such as eye and hair color or limps and twitches. Authors sometimes interview their characters to gain a greater sense of their personalities. Of course, these people are not really real, so their answers come from the author’s head. Another technique is to apply a frame of reference, such as a character in a movie or television show, in which to draw characteristics from. I once built a villain out of a person I know, and that was not such a wise decision as I’ve sweated over her reading my story and realizing the bad girl is the epitome of her.
What are techniques you use to build your characters? Are there other important elements that make a story good?