Like the title says, this post is going to be focused on characters, specifically how to make them interesting. Not just the gimmick kind of interesting, but ways that you can make your characters live. These ideas and techniques can help the people that you put in your stories break away from the prison of words that they were born from, and (hopefully) take root in your reader’s imagination.
What Can You Do?
This little tidbit can be explained with the help of your imagination. Picture yourself coming home. It’s late at night and when you go to unlock your door the key breaks off inside. Now you have to figure out a way in. If you were super strong then you might just break a hole through the wall. Maybe you are secretly a world-class thief. If only you could get your lock picks in the keyhole, this door would be open in no time. Let’s say that you are just a normal person. Now you have to use problem-solving skills to figure out a realistic solution to your problem. Maybe the best option is call a locksmith.
By limiting what your characters can do, you make them seem realistic. This exact same scenario could happen to your protagonist. They might be a world-class thief, but that doesn’t mean you should throw up a straw man just so they can knock it down. If all of your conflicts are larger than life, then it will make it hard for readers to relate to their plight. Have your characters do something that your reader would (and could) do every now and then. While you are waiting on the locksmith you might notice something strange watching your house. The mundane tasks could be the way that your character gains a significant edge.
Flaws > Perfection
Your hero is this amazing creation that optimizes all that is good. They prowl the night and serve as a beacon of hope. This is great, but it seems like it is taken out of a children’s book. Let’s say the hero does all of that, BUT is horribly disfigured. During the day, others treat him as a monster. So the only time he ventures is when the night can hide his face. He tries to help people in the hopes that they show him kindness, but time after time they are more scared of him than whatever he saved them from.
The second example creates depth to your character. By including a few flaws in some of your major players, it can open up a new side to their personalities, motives, and life. No one is completely one track, and even minor nuisances can help your reader identify your characters as real people.
This is the only tip that does not stick to the real world. In our lives, there are certain things that are random, but this is not the case when you are describing your characters. Imagination is what fuels a story. Your words are only the spark. If you take the time to rip the control from your reader’s imagination, you better have a good reason. If you take three paragraphs describing a girl’s blonde hair, there should be a damn good reason. It should signify something about her class, location, personality, etc. If you write a long description simply to try to get the reader to see exactly what you imagine, then you might be doing more harm than good.
A reader will often form a mental picture in their mind and if your description doesn’t jive with what they thought it can throw them out of whack. If it isn’t necessary, then let your reader fill in the gaps. You want to give enough description that they can see the scene, but leave enough that they can make them real.