There really is no simple equation for any type of characters. The hero, the villain, the little side characters that no one cares about… they’re all large components of a story with all of their little twists and turns. I wish I could say there was some easy way to make the perfect character that could fit into any genre and thrive in their own glory, but there isn’t. Characters are not a simple addition problem, hero+conflict=best story ever is not something that will always work.
I’ve heard writers say that they hear their characters in their head, off writing hours, and at times I have a hard time believing it. I already stink at real life conversation, so what makes you think I want to be talking to some fiction person in my head all the time? I don’t even want to talk to myself half of the time, let alone a person I brought together from a compost pile in my head.
Here’s some good news, you don’t have to learn to talk to yourself to make a good hero. My tip to you: Learn from television.
Now, wow there buster, are you telling me that all I have to do is watch some television and I’ll get my characters? I just copy off of them or something? NO. We don’t need another 50 Shades of Gray. What I mean is, take your hero and put his backstory into episodes in your head. If you like dramatic childhoods, create an episode where he loses his mom or a mutant bug eating their hubby at the altar. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in your book or movie, but it gives references on how your character acts in certain situations, and it perfect material for flashbacks.. Make the episode dramatic and life changing or whatever, enjoy the episodes. The reason why people obsess over some TV show characters is because they know them and love them inside and out from what they did on their TV show. The key to all of this is: LEARN TO LOVE YOUR HERO.
While creating these episodes, think to yourself about what characteristic of him is so likable? Heroes should never be perfect saints, first of all, but they certainly can’t be Satan’s spawn. Some characteristics that are a favorite among heroes is determination, loyalty, kindness, kick-ass-ness, etc. etc. etc. You can spice your character however you like, but the biggest thing is: why should we give a damn?
I’ve been watching some USA shows, and frankly, some of them do amazing jobs at helping us care for the character. Let’s take Burn Notice into question. The hero, Michael Westen, is a super spy who is in the middle of a CIA mission, and suddenly, right when the CIA’s resources were needed the most, he’s got the burn notice. He’s fired, kicked back to Miami Florida with a myriad of bruises and doesn’t have a cent to his name. Now, with those characteristics alone, I really wouldn’t care much for this guy, and wouldn’t follow him on his adventures. At least not yet. However, then, when Michael Westen helps a person, one who he didn’t need to help, but helps anyway, with his two beautifully hilarious friends Sam and Fiona, things begin to change. We see that he struggled with a bad Dad, but because of that, he’s protective and distant from his family. Here’s a good man who was thrown out for no good reason, and he wants to find the truth. You’ll want him to find the truth too… well, somewhat.
The point is, we need to give a damn about the character. Then, you get us to love him. Then, we’ll follow every chapter in your book or your tv show because we need to know whether or not the hero can protect what he needs to protect. Whether he gets the truth or what he wants or not. Take it a step up and help me love every single protagonist in the show, then the hero doesn’t have to carry all the weight. Give me a villain to love and I’ll give you waffles.
Go on and make some good characters. If you do, it’s very likely that I will come find you and eat up all of your work.
Good day, and see you next week.