Characters are the heart and essence of every story. Whether it’s a hero or a villain, they have served as a companion and have taught us indispensable life lessons that have helped us navigate through the ups and downs of life. However, developing fictional characters entail a lengthy process that includes thorough research to ensure that they are as dynamic and complex as real human beings. Let’s explore some of the elements and ways on how we can create and develop compelling characters that can become part of the collective consciousness and stand the test of time.
Anatomy of a Character
Every character in a story must go through an important quest or so-called hero’s journey. In a nutshell, it starts with a hero or protagonist who goes on an adventure, encounters some challenges, overcomes them, acquires knowledge and wisdom, and returns back home as a new and transformed individual.
A well-written and developed character must have the following elements:
A Goal to Achieve
Just like us, we all have a laundry list of goals we want to accomplish in life. It gives us purpose, direction, and motivation to keep moving and evolving. The characters we love on screen should also have goals that they will stop at nothing to achieve because it will serve as the fuel that will propel the story forward and make their journey interesting. Goals could look like a boy who wants to get the girl, a man trying to make ends meet for his family, a detective looking for the suspect, a teenager who wants to fit in, etc. Having a goal and seeing the lengths that a character would go through to achieve it is what makes them active and compelling. To take it a step further, giving your character what they want (goal) and making them realize later on that their need, which could be a lesson they learn from overcoming the obstacles in pursuit of their goal, is actually what would give them genuine happiness and fulfillment.
A Dynamic Personality
Personality traits are what separate us from each other and make us unique in our own way. Our beliefs, manners, thought processes, culture, and interests shape our actions, perspectives, and decisions in life. They must have their own voice that allows them to distinctly express themselves internally and externally. The kind of traits we give our characters dictate how they will approach certain situations in their journey as well as how they connect with the people around them and most especially, the audience. They must also possess flaws and weaknesses like us to make them relatable. Having diverse and conflicting personalities will create better conflict because oftentimes, our own personalities or behavior either help or hinder us from achieving our goals.
We all have a past that has shaped us into who we are today. In films, this is referred to as our backstory. The character’s past experiences are vital in helping the audience understand their motives, points of view, and actions better. Backstories oftentimes reveal important information that is necessary to complete the puzzle. Creating rich backstories is important because it gives your character dimension and makes them human like us.
When creating characters, how they look and how they present themselves is as equally as important as what’s on the inside. The type of clothes they wear, how they fix their hair, the tattoos, and scars on their skin, the amount of makeup on their face, the environment, and the things they possess – immediately give us an insight into the kind of person they are. These can also serve as a symbol that is essential to the narrative because they could represent a life-changing event that has shaped the character and their present situation.
Authenticity & Believability
When creating fictional characters, there must be a ton of research that writers should do to make them authentic and believable as much as possible. For the audience to truly relate and sympathize with your characters, they must think, speak, and act in such a way that matches the type of person they are. For instance, if your character is a scientist, they must be able to speak the jargon and think like one. There’s no better way to know how scientists act or what really happens at work than consulting one in real life. It’s also important to give justice and proper representation to cultures and gender identities by providing people belonging to those communities the opportunity to directly write and tell their stories on the page.
Characters are not just part of the story, they are the story
Characters are not just part of the story, they are the story. Incorporating these elements will help you create multidimensional, compelling, and memorable characters that will leave an indelible mark on your audiences. Growing up, I’m sure we all have a long list of fictional characters that we loved and emulated because they have inspired and touched our hearts in a way that nobody else could do in real life.
Nowadays, it’s amazing to see more characters that truly reflect the diverse and rich cultures, identities, and communities we have all over the world. While we are making progress in that department, there’s still a lot of work to do for storytellers to bring more characters to the big screen from underrepresented and marginalized groups.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.