Chuck Wendig is a well-known author of speculative and science fiction. What authors know and like him better for, though, is his blog. Known for his long list posts designed to help authors write better books, he's successfully published multiple books filled with this writerly advice. He recently laid out a long list of attributes a great character should have. Here are ten of the most important on his list.
- Motivation. What does your character want? Every person in your book has got to have a goal, something he's aiming for. If he's not going anywhere, he's standing still and being boring. So why keep him in the book?
- Fears. Every Superman has his kryptonite. What makes your character afraid? What stops him in his tracks and deters him from his goal? Fears make characters seem more human. Imagine a hero. He's handsome, sensitive and intelligent. Boring, right? Now add a morbid fear of kittens. He starts shaking at the sight of those clawy little furballs. He's a lot more interesting now, right? Make your characters into someone your readers want to get to know.
- Internal conflict. No one is so single-minded that they can't harbor some small doubt. Your heroine may be convinced that the cop is the love of her life, that she wants to run away and live a life of crime-fighting with him, but... It's that tiny second thought that makes everything more interesting.
- Connections with other characters. Let the readers discover your character's personality by watching him interact with others. Is he snobby with waiters? Does he pick up a child who's fallen and skinned his knee? Does he hate small talk or is he snarky with everyone? Don't describe, just let the details show with his actions.
- Something they're good at. Everyone's got their strengths, even the baddest of the bad guys. In fact, that's his strength: being bad. Everyone's a hero in his own story. Make sure your character has some talent he's proud of, even if it's making origami cranes or organizing shelves.
- Flaws. A perfect character is a boring character. Just like every character needs a fear, every one needs something they can't do; something they need help with. That's why heroes have sidekicks, and that's why rescue stories are so exciting.
- A look. You don't have to describe every single detail of your character's wardrobe, but you should know the type of clothes he's likely to wear. Is he preppy, post-apocalyptic, nerdy? Does she wear flannel shirts or striped tights? A character's look says a lot about his personality. Make sure your matches.
- Room to grow. None of your characters should be perfectly formed when your readers meet them. Make sure each one has room to grow, a place to improve. The point of a story is to move your character from one point to another. Victim to victor, alone to not alone, wondering to informed. All of these require room in their personality to allow growth and change. Characters who are set in their ways are pictures, not people.
- A history. People don't spring full-blown from the earth. Your characters shouldn't, either. Maybe your character only drinks iced coffee. Maybe he avoids swimming pools at all costs. Let those facts slip in casually during the story, but wait a while before telling anyone why this is happening. It gives your character depth and complexity.
- The right name. This might seem trivial, but it's more important than you think. Picture the people attached to these names: Gertrude, Cherry, Lamont, Brad, Albert, Leticia. You may not picture the exact same person as anyone else, but you're probably pretty close. Certain names are stereotypical for certain character types. Make sure your character's name fits his looks, background, and personality.
Keep the Faith and May the Force be with You!