If you know nothing about your character, the first thing to do is to fill out a character quiz. My characters were all kind of hazy individuals with only a few distinct personality traits. They had vague backstories and unclear motivations. Not only were my characters lacking, but my plot was as well. I just wasn’t sure where it was going, and how could I when so many of the characters were only partially formed in my mind? If I didn’t know the personality of the antagonist, just his motives, then how was I to know how he would inflict pain on my protagonist? If I didn’t know about how my protagonist was affected by things, how would I know how the antagonist could hurt her?
Not only this, but I dread writing a Mary Sue. Or a Gary Stu. I have taken this test many times for many characters. Some passed, some didn’t. Some fell on the middle line. As you write more and take the test more you realize that some things are just not okay to do, like being Stephanie Myers and writing a character like Bella. I just took the test for a character of mine and got a -3. I think that’s also not good, but a bad score on the test doesn’t mean I need to scrap the character. A very low score means that I have to make sure my character remains interesting enough for readers to want to read about her while a very high score would mean that I needed to think about making her more of an individual and less of a special snowflake. I suggest everyone take this test at least once to make sure you know what to look out for. After that you just need to ask yourself if your character has personality traits you can list and if they have a specific flaw. If so, write on.
Speaking of flaws, it’s important that your character have a flaw. A world of perfect characters means a world where nothing goes wrong. There is no plot, no problems to be solved. Even if all but one character has a flaw, that single perfect character isn’t okay unless his/her perfectness actually causes them non-Mary-Sue-like problems.
Characters are made-up people in a made up world. That’s the gist of it. To make a believable character you have to think if they would be a believable person. Have you ever known anyone that didn’t annoy ANYONE they met, even the most irritable? Have you never met a person who hated someone for basically no reason? Have you ever met someone who you found completely perfect and couldn’t find a single flaw in? If you just said yes, you need to take a step back from writing and examine your personal life. I love my boyfriend with all my heart and I think he’s absolutely perfect for me, but I still recognize that he’s terribly introverted, procrastinates too much, and is kinda lazy and incredibly unmotivated when it comes to certain things. However, I can love him and still recognize that he’s not perfect. Love should not blind you, and that includes love for your character. You created them from nothing and have been with them through everything, but you have to remember that they’re not real. They’re just a tool in your writing. If realizing that your perfect character is kind of an asshole betters your writing, it’s the best step.
That being said, Camp Nanowrimo starts tomorrow. I might do more character quizzes since the one for my main character helped so much with the plot. Here’s my favorite question/answer from the quiz.
Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: Wren wanted to breed livestock and sell them at market.
It might not seem like much, but I made it up on the spot and now that’s another aspect to my character that exists. Little things like that add up and can go a long way.