While outlining a new short story or novel, you likely have already decided on your character’s gender, age, profession, ethnicity, and name. However, creating an engaging character needs more than these aspects to make your story entertaining and memorable. There are eight basic elements to consider as you shape and develop your character.
As we know, how people look affects their own self-perceptions as well as how they’re perceived by others. Is your character, fit, short, tall, out of shape, obese? Is their hair short, long, neglected, pristine, natural or dyed? Do they have purple highlights or mousy brown hair that covers their face? If a male, is he balding, if so does he try to hide it? Is he clean shaven or breaded? Does he choose to wear long hair tied back?
Giving your character a backstory, which you might be the only one who knows, will help you to see the character as real and provide consistency, rather than appear as though they are something random from your imagination. Think about how they grew up, what influenced or impacted them? What was their relationship with their parents? Siblings? Loving, abusive, dysfunctional? What led them to make the choices they did with career, hobbies or other activities?
How do they speak to people and does this change depending on the person, gender or status? Do they use long sentences or short, clipped phrases? Do they curse or do they make frequent references to a deity? Is their voice pleasant or rough? Is there a certain word or phrase they say that it unique to them?
Relationships with people and things
Are they extrovert, introvert or an extroverted-introvert? Do they have a lot of friends or just a select few? How do they interact with their social group? Through sports? Games? Drinking or drugs? Religious beliefs? Shopping? What kinds of things do they like to do on their own? Read? Run? Listen to music and if so, what kind do they prefer? Do they need to be in a romantic relationship or are they happier on their own?
What does your character see as their greatest strengths? What do other people see as their greatest strengths? Do they match or are they in opposition? Is the characters strengths also their weaknesses? Are they helpful to everyone else but neglect themselves? Are they great at solving other people’s problems, yet can’t let go of the situation themselves? A character’s strengths and skills will help them to solve whatever problems they confront, but they could also make things worse.
Flaws add dimension to a character but you want your reader to like them, despite themselves, so try to keep the number of flaws to one or two traits that drive people crazy. Their flaw can either cause the problems or make them more difficult to solve. Maybe they’re a procrastinator or a jokester who never knows when to stop. Are they determined to the point where they put themselves or others at risk? Do they talk over others in a conversation or have a competitive streak that always goes too far?
Reading the inner dialogue of a character provides the reader with access to something the other characters are unaware of. Does your character keep hidden knowledge, feelings or a secret from the other characters? Or does your character reveal everything they think, therefore having their thoughts and ideas put them at risk? How is their internal and external dialogue different and does it change as the story progresses?
How real does this character seem? Can people relate to them and their struggles? Does the character come across as too one-dimensional? What makes the readers want to emotionally invest in your character, to cheer them on as they move through the story and care what happens to them?
All characters who have an important role in your story, including your antagonist, need to be more than a simple one-dimensional personality. Though not as in-depth as the protagonist, they need to be just as real as your hero for the reader to buy into the story and engage in it from beginning to end.