Source: Internet Movie Database, Gone with the Wind

Characters are an important element of a novel.  They are often remembered long after you read the novel and have forgotten the plot, depending on the richness of the character.  The ultimate goal is to bring the characters to life and to make them memorable.

Reader must be able to understand and relate to the character.  The most important job of a character is to stimulate a reader’s emotions by showing traits that can be understood, related to, and are believable.

  • Develop characters one at a time by giving them a few traits (2-5)  that continue throughout the entire story.  (e.g. Smart, curious, adventurous, risk-taking, brave).
  • Don’t contradict characteristics (smart, but continually makes silly decisions)
  • Show your character’s predominant traits first; this will be your fundamental base for your character.
  • Complimentary traits are the second layer of your characters.  These traits compliments (not contradict) the fundamental base characteristics.
  • Complexity/contrasts (flaws) are the third layer of your characters.  Again, the contrasts should compliment the fundamental and complimentary characteristics, but when well done it adds depth and complexity to the individual.  This is where the character becomes more human to the reader.  For example, a brave hero whose one weakness is a phobia of spiders (bad childhood experience).  ***Avoid contradictions!  You have to make a character believable! And don’t change fundamental traits; a character remains the same, but has new dimensions added to them through their experience.  Rather their attitude may change.
  • Create scenes or challenges that lets your character behave with the characteristics you have given to him or her.
  • Emotional impact requires delivering the right emotions at the right time for a specific situation. Create emotions to which people can relate (not being invited to a party).  Make use of whatever emotions are involved in a situation, and remember that the emotions will support a character’s dominant traits.
  • Avoid non-descriptive terms, like “confused” or “uncomfortable” or other emotions that don’t convey thing to the reader.
  • Characters who don’t act “normal” are more interesting and engaging because they tend to be more spontaneous (as long as the character is still believable).  Know the history of your characters; some of their histories may justify behaviors and decisions made by them, and complement their dominant characteristics. You don’t have to tell every detail of a character in your novel, but you should be familiar with them.
  • Give characters a history which motivates their behavior, and give them values (conduct that people live by) that are consistent with their fundamental characteristics.  Readers relate very close to beliefs. When a reader relates to the same beliefs, the relationship with the character deepens. When your character reacts to an event (e.g. keys locked in the car), the reader will either be reassured by their predictable response or surprised by their behavior (they should not be confused).