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Creating Fictional Characters: The Main Character

So, since this week has hereby been dubbed character week, we’re going to go through the steps of creating a fictional character and after this post. I’ll even post some scans of the first incarnations of one of my main characters after this post. But first, down to the business of how to do this.

We could say that the basic process of making any character is the same and the basic process is pretty much the same, but the types of characters are different which changes the process just a little.  But before we get to talking about creating the Main Character, let’s list the types of character. It’s very simple really.

The Main Character (usually the protagonist)
The Supporting Characters (Lead and Lesser)
The Villain (antagonist)
Cameo Characters (I made that name up kind of…)

So let’s deal with the main character. First of all, what are the traits of a main character? That’s a little broad. Let me reword that. What is the purpose of the main character or main characters and what purpose will your main character serve? So let’s start with the basic stuff and work our way up.

What’s the MC going to do?
It seems like you’d do this first, but the exact reason I went over roles and treating the creation of character like a casting director would cast actors for movies is because you have to build the character, especially the main character, based on what the character has to accomplish in your story. So my imaginary female protagonist has to:

Fight the evil sexist maniac
Fall in love along way
And deal with real life issues and some politics.

So now that we know what she’s going to do, we have to build her personality to be able to do those things.

Personality: Personality actually entails quite a few things that I don’t have time to get into but will get into in later posts. There are the basics, like are they brave or fearless (yes there’s a difference), cowardly, determined, willful, stubborn, hot tempered, gentle souls etc… But here’s the thing about the MC, because they’re the one whose head the reader is going to be in most of the time, their personality has to be very distinguished and detailed so that they stand out amongst the rest of the character, especially if you have a large cast, which is why many MC’s have an outstanding characteristic that works as their greatest strength and also their greatest weakness. So here’s my character:

            My character is female, headstrong, very spoiled and used to getting what she wants, doesn’t let anyone stop her from doing anything she sets her mind to, and is a borderline feminist. Does that mean she thinks women are better? No. She thinks women have the same rights as men do and both play an important role in society. This means she’s stubborn and unfortunately because she’s so passionate, has a hot temper. Let’s say that her biggest weakness is that she has the tendency to be unsympathetic because of her strong personality.

This isn’t as detailed as it can be but hey, it works. Now on to the next part.

Age: This is very important. Choose your age wisely. Depending on what your character is doing, the degree of their personality, and the audience you’re going for determines the age. What would I look like writing a character like this, who has to defeat the sexist maniac, and she’s eleven years old? This isn’t manga where that kind of stuff happens. We need real world stuff. Manga’s allowed to do that. So I’m going to say that this character is… Seventeen. That works for the writer and that means we’re going to get a YA audience and we might get people a little older to reade if it’s written right.

Idiosyncrasies: Definitely give these to the main characters. These are things that will really distinguish the character from the other book characters (in your book and other books) that have similar personalities. I’m talking about that nervous habit like biting nail, being afraid of pigeons, liking spicy foods, being a fan of the Beatles etc… They can be the really odd ins and outs that maybe won’t even make it into your book but they make the character real and they’re even more fun if they seem to contrast with the personality.

            Let’s say that my character loves spicy foods, is afraid of (get this) ladybugs, but walks right past snakes without blinking an eye, and loves to watch the Disney versions of Cinderella and Snow White…

Did that last one throw you for a loop? Yeah. I thought it would. The thing about characters is they’re like people and people sometimes like things that you would totally think they’d hate. You would think this character would hate Cinderella for obvious reasons. The whole prince and fairy god mother thing…

Special Skills and Abilities: First we have to know that this is not fantasy. So this means no magic, no flying carpets, no transformations, vampires, werewolves, or the like. But that doesn’t mean the character can’t have special skills and abilities. Maybe they’re a gymnast, athlete, spokesman, actor, typist etc. The list goes on forever. My character’s special skill? She has a way with words and I don’t mean she’s manipulative. I mean she knows the meanings of words and studies them and that’s a good skill to have if you need to say… insult the intelligence of the sexist maniac a few times.

Flaws: The characters always have to have a flaw. No human is perfect and flaws don’t have to obvious. The greatest strength can be the flaw. It can be physical, mental, morally, physical (I’m getting to that) whatever! I know my character’s fatal flaw right of the back. She’s an idealist. She thinks that everyone can somehow come to some form of agreement, that there’s always a compromise and in that sense, it also means she may be just a tad naïve.

Appearance: I did appearance darn near last for a reason. It’s down here because people tend to build a character on appearance sometimes and doing so can mess a writer up. Think of it like this, you’re only going to be able to describe your main character the way you see it. But the way you see it might not be the way the readers see it. They’re going to see the character based on the personality. But alas, the MC can look however you want them to look. As long as this person look like a seventeen year old girl, she can look like whatever… wait scratch that. The way she looks, not physically but the clothes the character wears and the bag they carry can be based on personality. My character can either be flashy, conservative or a mixture of both. But as for the stuff people are born with in genetics, that’s all free game.

Background check: This stuff may never pop up in your novel, but the writer needs to know the entire history of the main character. The past dictates the future. The character did something in the past that got them to where they are at the start of the story and the writer should at least be aware of that for continuity purposes of the novel and the character. The character might do things that the reader may think is off the fly, but if you have history to prove that the character would act that way it seals the deal.

Sympathy: The thing that distinguishes the MC from the other characters the most is this aspect. The MC has to be a character we can have sympathy for. If not, the reader can’t relate and the character risks not being likeable. We don’t necessarily have to like what the character does even. But we do have to understand it and it’s our job as the writer that we get this across about the MC in particular. So do you as the writer like the character? Is he/she meant to be a little dislikeable, but the motives are understood? Ask yourself these questions as you write, especially when your character does something that won’t be well received or might be a little out of character. Make sure you can make the reader understand.

What’s in a name? You should have been thinking about this the whole time and actually you can do this anytime something comes to you. But be very careful when you do this. Choose a name that you as the writer can like, not learn to like, but likes. I don’t know why this happened, but I hated the name I chose for my MC and because of that I couldn’t flesh out her personality like I wanted and at first I didn’t know what was wrong. I figured it out when I started cringing every time I saw the name and as soon as I found something better, the story wrote easier and she gained the personality I had imagined when I conceived her years ago. So yes. A name does matter and usually I shop around on the internet for names. But because I don’t have the time, I’ll just randomly name her Kiana.

So that’s the MC and the premise is pretty much the same for all the other characters accept… well, I’ll get to that tomorrow. They don’t have to be as detailed or stand out as much. The MC is like the bride in a wedding. All eyes are on them, but the bridesmaids and the groom and the groomsmen look nice too. But I’ll get to that tomorrow. Lol.

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