Writer Guy’s Tip #4: Characters

It is kind of fitting that we end the second month of the blog with the final primary component of fiction writing.

I should probably clarify that when I say primary, it is really more opinion than fact. There are other elements that have their own significance, but I believe knowledge about these four, Setting, Plot, Narrative and Characters is necessary for you to even begin writing. You  would probably be a lousy writer if you just depend on these four, but at least you would be a writer…

Okay, now, unlike with the previous posts in this category, this Tip is fairly independent and having read the preceding posts is, while still highly recommended, not entirely necessary.

So far, you should-

  1. Have a rough idea of the plot, and the primary characters of your story.
  2. Have a fair idea of the setting of your world.
  3. Have considered the possibilities regarding your plot structure and style of narrative.
  4. Have not written too much, already, or are willing to rewrite.

Now, as we begin this discussion, I invite you to spare a moment to think about your favourite fictional characters… Remember why you love them, what makes them so special, and you relate to them…

I was actually quite surprised, when, while writing this post, I realised that my favourite fictional character is Dustfinger, from Inkheart and its subsequent sequels, by Cornelia Funke.

Of course, on further examination, it makes sense. The character is shady and mysterious, and often rather untrustworthy, which I think is just so much cooler than the typical Mr. Sunshine… He has some fairly interesting abilities, most of which made me really burn inside… He is often seeking trouble, or creating trouble, or getting into trouble…

But, at the end of the day, it is the love he has for his family and devotion for his friends that really defines him, and drives his character arc. And, oddly enough, he is not even nearly the main protagonist of the book…

He is actually quite similar to Snape, another character that I love, minus the friendzone

Characters are usually characterised in two ways:

Round and Flat:

Round characters are the multi-faceted ones that usually play a larger role in the story. They often change and grow, as the story progresses.

In constrast, flat characters imbibe a certain characteristic, and are used in the story to perform a small function. They are the highly dispensable characters that do not require, or deserve, too much investment.

Dynamic and Static:

Dynamic characters are the ones that evolve over the course of the story, and static characters do not evolve over the  course of the story… Basic stuff…

There are several archetypical characters that you should take a look at… I know some of you might be like, “Ugh! Such overused!”, but remember, they are overused for a reason, and using them sparingly but wisely can save you a lot of work, without really hampering its quality.

Dramatica Theory specifies eight typical roles a character might inhibit:

1. Protagonist:

You know, the usual good guy… The Harry Potters and Eragons and Luke Skywalkers of the world… I personally find them to be fairly boring, credit-stealing dimwits, but you need them for the story to even begin…

2. Antagonist:

The big bad wolves, who wants to, in the best case scenario, want to conquer the entire world, and killing or maiming or destroying the protagonist, in the process… If they are bad plus crazy, they might try to destroy it instead…

Of course, there are times when they’d be satisfied by just making a coat out of your dalmatians…

3. Guardian:

Basically, the strong good guys protecting the weak good guys, so that the weak guys can kill the strong bad guys… Doesn’t quite add up, does it?

Dumbledore, or Gandalf, or Yoda you must ask.

4. Contagonist:

The guy who doesn’t care about the overall plot of the story, but won’t let the protagonist roam around the school grounds after hours…

The pure hatred readers have for Umbridge makes them forget that she was a Contagonist, and not an Antagonist…

5. Reason:

When we talk about Reason, it is only logical that we remember Spock.

These characters encourage the protagonist to follow pure, cold logic.

Even Hermione starts out as the Reason, of the group, although she later grows beyond that…

6. Emotion:

These are the good guys who encourage the protagonist to listen to his heart, and look beyond reason.

With Hermione serving as the Reason, Ron often serves as the Emotion of the group, until he too outgrows this…

7. Sidekick:

One word: Chewbacca

Okay, two more words: Ron Stoppable

This time, three words: Doctor John Watson

Now four words: Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes

That sums it up, I suppose?

8. Skeptic:

These are the guys who don’t believe the protagonist is the saviour they have been waiting for…

A number of high law enforcement and government officials come to mind, like those guys in the first Avengers movie, who try to nuke New York, just in case… I wonder why nobody brought it up in Captain America: Civil War…

Now, here are my personal tips on how to make characters that work the best…

Firstly, know what you need from the character. This is where your conviction in your plot will be tested.

Also, know your character. Know its defining traits, and stick with them. Yes, dynamism is good, but not at the cost of consistency. Any transitions the character undergoes must be reasonable, and justified by the events of the story.

Actually, everything you do needs to be justified, either by the setting or by the plot. You see, a sword master in 816 AD Rome makes more sense than one in 2016 AD, and your plot would have to explain that. Actually, even a young guy with a stable salary in 2016 AD Rome sounds implausible…

Try to make the characters, especially the major ones, unique. Add minor details that may not effect the plot, but that add depth to the character.

For example, a character being left-handed may be a major plot point, especially if your story is about a murder committed by a lefty guy and your guy is a suspect. However, if that is not the case, you can still make him lefty, and refer to his annoyance at ball-point pens that don’t work well for him.

“After all”, he would say, “we make up 15% of the population! If you can make different transgendered toilets, why not make some lefty pens while you’re at it? We already ask for so less…”

And that is another point, do not fear adding flaws and weaknesses to your character. That makes them realistic.

In general, people tend to like stories better if they can relate to some of the characters. However, the success of A Game of Thrones and its sequels makes one wonder if that is really necessary, because that series does not have many relatable characters… Or many relatable scenarios, either…

Using people you know as the base for a character can make your job easier… Most real people are round and dynamic enough already, often not in the obese way, and you can simply add them to your setting and then let the plot unfold. However, doing this makes it difficult to kill or maim them, later, so you should probably not send your loved ones into a Hunger Games type situation…

Using archetypes and flat characters is a practical choice. They are like butter, to be used smartly and sparingly, otherwise the outcome is unpalatable. Of course, you can add some zest that lift them above the trope, and the disguise would work.

That is actually a useful culinary tip: If you have used too much butter, add a citrus element to cut through the fats.

Anyway, that is all for today.

Thank you.


Published by

Yashas Mahajan

Author of Arrkaya: Origins, now available online... Increasingly being referred to as The Writer Guy...

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