Character Creation 101 (part 1)

Hello, and welcome to Character Creation 101! I haven’t worked out our syllabus yet, so bear with me. It’ll take some time to work out what we’re going to do in here.

Or… maybe we could just take it one character at a time.

Yeah, let’s do that.

For the next nine weeks, you and I will be exploring various character types and traits, and delving into how to write them well, no matter the story you’re working on. After all, characters are some of the most important parts of writing, whether you’re writing novels, novellas, or even short stories. If the characters are awful, no amount of amazing story will help you. Trust me on that.

For now, let’s start with the most basic of the basics.

The Protagonist

 

This is our main character, our central character, the character around whom the story will focus. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many stories that have many protagonists (The Lord of the Rings springs to mind immediately), but for the sake of study, let’s pretend there’s just one in our story.

One protagonist.

One hero.

Now, how on Earth do we write that?

 

How to create a great hero

Use Your Setting

In many cases, your protagonist will be defined by what’s around them. So, what kind of story are you writing? Is it a romance?—then perhaps your protagonist should be a female with trust issues. An epic space opera?—perhaps your protagonist should be cunning, someone who commands respect. But then, the opposite is true as well. Let your setting and your planned story help guide you in choosing the sort of person your protagonist is.

 

Use Your Feelings

The protagonist needs to be a character who your readers care about, and for that to work, I suggest you care about them as well. That means they need a little something we like to call agency. Your protagonist needs to have something that they want, something they need, that they don’t have easy access to. There needs to be a hole in their life, one that needs fixing, and we need to care how they go about getting it. But you have a million options in getting there, so…

 

Use Your Head

In creating a great hero, a great protagonist, keep in mind that they must be as realistic as possible. They need to be someone who could easily step off the page and have a conversation with you, or someone your reader can easily picture walking down the street, keeping their head down. There are many different ways of achieving this.

And yes, don’t worry, I’m aware that I’ve given you zero information whatsoever.

But that’s just the point.

At least for our hero, there is no magic formula to make them the best they can be. For our protagonist, the main thing to keep in mind is that they are the character who carries the story. If they’re not interesting enough to do that, if they won’t let you fully into their head, then it’s time to look into someone else.

A protagonist is a character with a story, a character who drives a story forward, a character with agency and heart, a character with a passion, a history, a future—and your reader must want to know every bit of it.

 

My advice?

In making your protagonist, have a conversation with them. Create your own Q+A session, perhaps using similar questions to what you might find while interviewing someone.

  • Why do you want this position?
  • What makes you think you’d be a good fit here?
  • Tell me a little about yourself.
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What would you say are your best strengths?

Answer them as though you’re the protagonist you have in mind. See if this is someone you can work with, and go from there.

It helps, I swear.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.