The Difference Between Awesome Characters and Awesome People
“Character develops itself in the stream of life.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
What makes an awesome character? There are a lot of differing opinions on what traits come together to make characters that are well-loved, and many a writer has struggled at length with the character development. Really, think how easy plot is next to characters. Plot is just a bunch of stuff that happens, hopefully with some organization or flow.
But character? That’s a whole ‘nother challenge.
Because here’s the catch: An awesome character might be strong, smart, funny, complicated, troubled, flawed, deep, emotional, or any other combination of positive and negative traits.
But what is an awesome person like?
Think of a person you like or admire. You probably would describe them in much the same way—strong, smart, funny, whatever—but what are they actually like as a person? How do those traits manifest in real life?
Because we’re not writing characters in a story. We’re writing people in their lives. You have to account for who and what and how they were long before the book started, and who and what and how they’ll be long after the book finishes (uh…assuming they survive, which many characters don’t).
Think about their life outside the plot of the book. Maybe it’s a romance novel, but the characters better have something going on in their lives besides falling in love and admiring the other’s appearance. What are their goals, hobbies, aspirations, fears? What traumatized them as a child? Where did they go on vacation as a kid? What skill did they try and fail to master?
The difference between awesome characters and awesome people is that, while awesome characters are fun, or cool, or enjoyable to read about…awesome people make you want to actually hang around them. You care. You want to be part of their life. Go on Tumblr and look through any devoted fandom—Doctor Who, Sherlock, Avengers, etc.—and you’ll find a huge collection of fans talking about how they just want a show/movie of their favorite characters running around, doing random things, having fun, playing pranks, and so on.
If you’re going to write a story that anyone cares to read, you need characters that inspire this level of love. I’ve written about this before, but honestly, it’s so important it can’t be said enough.
You’ll know you’re on the right path when you start saying things like, “This character would never say that,” or “Man, that is so this character,” even when you’re away from your manuscript. And you’ll definitely be on-track when they start writing themselves and you feel like you no longer have any say over what they do/say and how they behave/think.
And keep in mind: If you want to create a world that people will get sucked into—and characters they’ll love long after they’ve put the book down—you’re going to have to make sure that your characters aren’t characters at all, but rather real, genuine people.
No one gets attached to fictional characters. We get attached to people who live in books.
What’s the best way to make a character leap off the page and take on a life of their own? How do you accomplish this?