So, among other discoveries I have made along the way, one of the major things I have uncovered in my writing is the means by which to completely flesh out a character. There are a few different ways to go about this, and I will share with you a couple of them right now.
You should ALWAYS give your audience at least one character that they can root for or connect with.
Write out background information for your characters. This cannot be stressed enough. Even if no one else sees the complete ’character sheet’, this will allow you to help flush out the character’s past, and possibly give you some additional plot points that you can explore in the story. It seems like a lot of extra work, but it will give you as a writer, a glimpse into the Character’s Psyche. I always find it's so much more satisfying to find characters who have flaws, and play up those flaws in any way I can. No one is perfect, and anyone who says they are is lying to you. Giving characters flaws, be it alcoholism, kleptomania, or even just having the innate urge to always tell the truth no matter what, adds verisimilitude and a lot of interesting character interaction to the plot.
Diversity is key in character creation. Everything from personality to their names are important to who they are. Looks and personality of the character aside, the most important part of characters are their names. A character’s name is the reader’s first impression of them, and is a major defining factor to whether the reader likes or dislikes the character. In my experience I have noticed that I tend to flesh out the past and personalities of my characters before I name them. That way the name will fit the character. If I do it the other way around, well . . . you get a lot of baggage that way. For example, if you name your character Charlie, you can imagine all the Charlie brown songs running through your mind. Or if your reader had a bad experience with a girl named Rebecca, then they won’t like your Rebecca, despite Rebecca being the Heroin who owns a pet store and spends her weekends with underprivileged kids because she brings back bad memories to that reader.
While, granted, you can’t know who has wronged who all over this planet, you can get rid of the baggage of Celebrity names by RESEARCHING. I can’t stress that enough. Find an obscure name, a name that fits the character. Honestly, do not be surprised if after you have written half the book you want to change a character’s name. Whether it’s for plot line or fate or irony in the story itself, I have been known by my beta readers to just have place-holder names for my characters until the name I really wanted hit me in the face. Search Google for baby naming websites an ancient names and research the meaning of the names for the characters. You will surprise yourself with the abundance of creativity that flows from that research.
On that note, develop your characters, develop your characters, and develop your characters. Stories generally aren't about what happens to characters, but rather, how characters react to what happens to them.
Be a sadist. No, really. Be evil to them. Do terrible, awful things to them. No matter how sweet or innocent your leading characters, make dreadful things happen to them to show the reader what they can really do. Don't be afraid to make your characters FAIL. I read many stories where the main character, while not a Mary Sue by any stretch of the imagination, WON everything all the time. It gets redundant and boring. When a character fails, you want to pick them up and tell them to go for it again, or to try something different. When a character fails, that’s when you start to see who they really are, and what they are capable of doing.
Finally, remember, EVERY character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water. While yes, the characters react to what happens to them; a lot of the time it is the characters themselves who drive the plot line forward.
More on character creation later.