Every story needs a strong main character. Whether that character is human or something other is up to the author. This individual needs a backstory, image, personality, and motivation. They have a role in the story to play and it must be done well. In this article, I’ll be discussing some of what goes into making a great main character.
Let’s start with who they are, and I don’t mean their name. For some the name is a start but for me, I’ve always started with a person’s personality. Do they have a sunny disposition and connect with others easily or are they more introverted and tend to keep to themselves? I like my characters to start out needing growth. A lot of times I find myself adding bits of my own personality into the characters which connects me to them. It’s easier for me to do that especially when writing in first person point of view.
One area I have played in the most with characters is creating a female character who needs to find herself and realize her true power. Now this power can be magic, or it could just be confidence in her abilities. One specific character I created for a trilogy, my Ember trilogy, started out as a young woman who had no say in what she wanted to do with her life. Later in the story she’s given that control but must find a way to show her confidence and claim her rightful place of power in Hell. She did not start with a confident attitude but gained a respectful confidence over time. This is only one example.
There are so many different personalities that can be used for characters. I like to make a list of what I want them to be like. A lot of times I’ll make an excel file to keep track of this. I make a section for personality and then add more to who they are as I go.
Once I’ve got a good personality, I move on to picking a name. This can be fun. Some names have meaning behind them, and others are picked at random. I have used both methods in naming characters throughout my author career. It takes time to research names and often I find myself being impatient. I’ve also learned that authors occasionally use place holders for names, such as XXX or other variations, and return to name them after the story is completed.
After personality and name, I begin forming an image of my character. I’m not great when it comes to drawing so I search the web for images to inspire what my character will look like. I use Pinterest a lot for this and save images to boards to refer to as I write. I gather images of things for clothes, hair, styles, and more. It can be a lot of fun to do this and sometimes I find myself drifting down a rabbit hole. When I find something I want my character to have, say a specific hair color, I plug it into my excel sheet with the personality information. I use what I term my character list and keep adding to it as I write out stories. This is incredibly helpful with book series.
Once you have what their personality, image, and name will be, it’s time to decide their main role in of the story, which can also be used for side characters. What do you want your main character to have at the end of the story? What are they to do to get there? Will they solve a mystery? Find love? Save humanity? How will they do this?
It’s good to have an idea of what they will do whether you are a planner or pantser. It gives a rough idea of where the story will go and how their existence effects it. It can help prevent plot holes to have some idea of where your story will go. Even if you aren’t a planner, some planning must go into what you want your story to be.
Another thing to note on your characters purpose, is what causes this individual to want to do said task? What happened in their past that influenced this? Does a certain belief drive them to act?
Something that doesn’t always make it into the story but needs to exist is their backstory. What made them the person we meet in the story? This type of influence can come from religious beliefs, culture, traumatic events, or something life altering. I love discovering characters backstories, honestly, and it’s fun. Creating a backstory can be a lot of fun. If you write it out, you can even use it as bonus content. Many authors have even come back and created another story with the information from the backstory.
Characters are fun to create and play with. So much can be used to make them who you want them to be. I hope you found this information useful, and I would love to hear your thoughts on developing a strong main character. Drop me a comment below with your inspirations.