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Characters are, without a doubt, the most important part of a story. They are the anchors that a reader grabs on to and without them, even the most fantastic of plots can perish. The reasoning is rather simple. Think of it this way, if you meet someone, and they immediately turn you off, what are the chances that you two would meet again? Not very likely, and if you do, the chances that it was my choice are slim. So, if in ‘real life’ you wouldn’t want to hang out with someone you loathe (to put it… ‘mildly’) then why would a reader want to return to a book where the characters are so off-putting?

That is not to say that you cannot have a horrible person as a character because you can. However, there is a fine line between ‘tolerable’ and ‘intolerable’. The best solution is to make the character, good or bad, be as realistic as possible. A quick and simple solution is to base the character off of someone you know in real life, however, there have been many cases where authors have lost good friends and made life-long enemies by doing so. I personally am a sociable person and would go to hell and back before I had the ones I love get angry me for showcasing their unflattering traits. They know them, I know them, however, the world most certainly does not need to know.

To start, pick a gender.

Male, female, or a mixture of the two, it doesn’t matter. However, that is the very base information you will need to decide. Think of it as having a baby; the first thing that you know about it is whether it is a boy or a girl. Voila, you have a person, however, like a parent, you will have to ‘nurture’ your ‘child’ to become an adult.

You can choose a name now, and I will stress that unless the name has some significant meaning that you are trying to get across, it honestly does not matter. Like a real person, your parents did not know who you would turn out to be when they named you. Therefore picking a name like Daisy Summers for a girly character who likes gardening is rather… Unlikely.

The same Daisy Summers could have horrible acne and be an ace at math.

So… in short, unless the name is important, don’t base a stereotype along with it. If you find yourself basing your character off of the name, stop, work out the character, then make the name – pick one that sounds nice – if the problem is the other way around, work vice versa.

So, I have a girl, her name is Daisy Summers. What’s next? Simple, pick a stereotype.

No, you are not about to create a cliche character. That is not it at all. The reasoning behind ‘picking the stereotype’ has nothing to do with the actual character – it is how you write them. If you have a vague notion of who your character is, it doesn’t matter if they are ‘unique’. In my experience, it is harder to write a character when you don’t know their core self. In the end game, the stereotype will hardly come out at all – it dictates their base behaviour and goals, and is for writing purposes only.

So, I will have Daisy Summers be a romantic. Her goals and actions all appertain to fulfilling her pseudo-dreams of love. She swoons, she reads trashy magazines, and she looks up articles on ‘how to be noticed’ every day after school.

There, the very base character. To make the whole ‘stereotyping’ thing less daunting, pick an adjective that will make up their ‘base’ character. Heroic, shy, cowardly, romantic, smart, adventurous, stupid, etc. Try to stay away from ‘jock’, ‘geek’, ‘prep’, etc. You can use them, however, the reason you should try to avoid those types of really, really common stereotypes is because the entire world already has practically a set definition on them. The prep is always the same, as is the jock, the geek – the overuse will put limitations on your characters in your own mind.

So, I have the romantic Daisy Summers.

Now it is time to give your character some flaws.

There are two types of flaws that you can give your character. It all depends on which genre you are leaning towards. In my opinion, the two that really matter are ‘comedy’ and ‘drama’. Or, in simpler terms, is your story going to be light-hearted or heavy? It can be a mixture of the two, however, you will need to decide on whether the character will be a comedic relief or the tragic protagonist (yes, we are still working on the main character here).

Here is Daisy Summers in the comedic relief role:

Daisy Summers, romantic at heart however her boyish appearance turns off nearly every boy she likes. She stutters, her hands shake constantly, and she has always had the problem of being slightly overweight. She tries to make herself better, however, her own self-conscious nature doesn’t allow for the confidence she needs and her own high expectations create the nearsightedness that is the boy who sits next to her in class that has been in love with her since sixth grade. She is allergic to gluten, doesn’t like vegetables, and has yet to learn how to ride a bike. She almost drowned when she was eight, but loves to fly, and wants to be a pilot of her own plane when she finishes school.

There, the skeleton of Daisy Summers. This is her small little biography that makes her a quirky character with plenty of room to grow – thus she can be dynamic – and the plot can already be seen. This is a light-hearted story, so perhaps the boy next to her would start to gain more confidence before she does, and tries to woo her. However, she’s so in ‘love’ with the comedian of the class that she doesn’t notice what he’s doing.

There, a romantic comedy.

Here is Daisy Summers in the Dramatic role:

Daisy Summers, romantic at heart because her parents divorced and her father left when she was three. She wants to prove herself wrong; that love does exist, that marriage is something to want. However, despite this, the only aspect of herself that she can make more attractive is her appearance. She keeps an eye on carbs, calories, and consumption. She puts makeup on every day, because her father left due to her mother ‘not being attractive anymore’. Many boys like her, however, she has no interest in them. They just are not ‘right’. She’s aloof and distant and rather cold to everyone, meaning that her friendships are shallow and her relationships never last long. That is, of course, until she is suddenly stuck with making sure a boy in her class doesn’t kill himself after she found him standing on a bridge, about to jump.

There, the dramatic version of this romance (having the genre be any different is actually hard, considering that I made her core personality ‘romantic’ therefore, following the flow, she has become the heroine in a romance). This Daisy Summers has plenty of flaws, and it could be argued that the two Daisy’s are the same person, only the romantic drama Daisy’s father left the two of them, and the comedic Daisy’s father didn’t.

See? The personality depends greatly on the type of story they will be in. Naturally you could put the comedic Daisy in the situation the dramatic Daisy is now in, however, the stresses you would have to put in the carefree Daisy’s life would have to be life-changing because she is too immature to help a boy who truly wishes to die. Likewise, the dramatic Daisy wouldn’t care at all for the boy who was in love with her, because she is too jaded to be in such a naive situation.

Now, Daisy (I will use dramatic Daisy from now on) has a personality, and in that personality, it gives the flaws, limitations, and the plot line of the story she will be in. You can make her more complex, however, it is more interesting (in my opinion) to make the character more complex as the story progresses. This way the reader can firmly grasp the character, and then slowly become accustomed to her changing personality as they move forward.

The next step would be to create her appearance. Already I have cast her as being pretty, however, she is made up with heaps of make-up and the latest trends on everything. She, therefore, has an inferiority complex in relation to her appearance. This more than likely stems from her mother, and her father’s reaction and the reason for why he left. She believes she is not worth loving without it all, and therefore wears the image like a mask. She has short black hair, cut in a bob style based on some actress that she favoured, and light brown eyes, which she hates with a passion. She is 5’6″, and likes to wear heels. She has freckles that cover her cheeks and nose, however, they have the habit of looking like acne so she covers them up with heaps of foundation. She has a scar on her hand from where a bike crashed into her when she was little, and stubby fingers which she covers up with long sleeves.

A lot can be said about her appearance because it is how she represents herself to the world. In a sense, as the writer both how the character acts in their head, and how they act (and look) on the outside is paramount. There is a theory where we act based on how others perceive us. It’s called the ‘Looking Glass Theory‘, by Charles Cooley.

So, we have how she is, what she looks like, now it is time to give her some quirks. Quirks are the unique parts of us that we don’t notice at all, and thus seldom change them. They can be bad habits, ticks, paranoias, or the like. I’m going to have Daisy Summers someone who bites her nails constantly for comfort; it’s a bad habit she wants to break because her nails have been so worn down, however she finds that she cannot. In addition, she also is hyper-aware of words that sound like her name, because she has the anxiety of people talking behind her back.

It’s good to have a reason behind these quirks, even if its old age habits that were started up as a kid in mimicry of someone of respect.

Now, Daisy Summers has her core personality, her outward appearance, a few quirks. In essence, this character is ready to go. Naturally, you add many things to her as you go on, and it’s good to allow your character to have space for you to insert creative license whenever you choose to do. Think of it like learning about someone. Say you just met someone new, and as time goes on you learn more and more things about them.

Just a note for consistency: write down every additive on your characters as you make them. Small details are great, but they are easy to forget and hard to find again to validate.

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