First Base: Make your character interesting
Give your character a flaw
A flaw, according to Webster's, is "an imperfection or weakness and esp. one that detracts from the whole or hinders effectiveness." A flaw, according to Kristen Kieffer, is a problem your character doesn't recognize that is getting in the way of a happy, productive life. In Kieffer's article, “The #1 Key to Creating a Relatable Main Character,” is a list of "REAL flaws, personality traits or characteristics that hold [your character] back from being the person they need to be in order to achieve their story goal and/or defeat the villain." To give you an idea, I have included a partial list of flaws. To find the complete list and more of Kieffer’s helpful information, please refer to the complete article.
My character’s flaw in my WIP: She is riddled with self-doubt, which comes naturally to me, as an extreme lack of confidence was one of my major flaws as a youth.
Give your character a quirk
What characters come to mind because of their quirks? Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit is curious and mischievous, which gets him into trouble; A.A. Milne created a ravenous hunger for honey in her character, Winnie-the-Pooh, who couldn't fit through the rabbit hole.
What is the difference between a character flaw and a quirk?
Webster's defines a quirk as "a peculiar trait: an idiosyncrasy.” Two examples, in a nutshell: Batman is self-taught, and has made himself "the most brilliant and capable man he can be, and he uses gadgets and tools to appear otherworldly to his enemies." (1)
Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes: has extreme powers of observation; the power to detach his mind; and he keeps secrets.
Flaws and quirks help make your character interesting. Watch out for a too perfect character: Readers can't identify with your character if she is too perfect. Sure, she has challenges, but if they're overcome too easily, your reader will be bored.
Second Base: Give your character a worthy goal
In another Kristen Kieffer article, “How to Craft a Killer Character Goal for your Hero,” Kieffer makes a distinction between your character’s ambition, or what she desires, “something they believe will quell the dissatisfaction they feel in their lives,” which is what, evidently, many authors believe is enough of a goal; with “a specific and actionable goal that will lead your character into your story’s juicy conflict.” This article walks you through the process of “taking your character’s ambition and turning it into a powerful story goal,” and even says it’s simple!
Kieffer offers a list of key questions you can ask yourself to help define your character’s goals. Here are two:
1. How is my character dissatisfied with their life?
2. What does my character believe will bring them true happiness or contentment?
A second list is helpful in nailing down your character’s goal. Here is what I came up with for my character, using Kieffer’s list as a model:
1. She wants to go home to city life, is tired of the country.
2. She’s stuck in the country due to car trouble and needs to figure out a way to leave.
3. Here her goal changes: She realizes she can’t leave until the car is fixed, has been asked to help someone in trouble at the inn where she’s staying, and doesn’t want to leave until she solves the problem.
4. She does everything she can to solve the problem.
5. She solves the problem and is ready to go home.
If you are struggling with these issues, I recommend these two articles. Kieffer has helped me identify weaknesses in my story and has given me a way to strengthen those weaknesses.
Third Base: Give your character a special love interest
An analysis of your favorite stories can reveal elements you want to include in your own stories. Personal favorites are mysteries, thrillers, and adventure stories. For me, the story falls flat if there isn’t love of a dog, a horse, a romance, or my favorite: love between two friends.
Cover your bases with these tips and you will be well on your way to hitting a home run in creating your main character. Hit the ball out of the park and you can do it again and again in many new ballgames.
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Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she has completed her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, and is hard at work on Book Two in the series. Follow Linda at www.lindawilsonauthor.com.