Remember in algebra when you would spend hours solving problems with y=mx+b? Personally, I’ve always found math semi easy (I’m really afraid I just jinxed myself). There is a definite answer no matter what.
Unfortunately, people aren’t that simple. People are irrational, inconsistent, and well… maddening. Think about one of your friends. Could you summarize them in one word whether they are kind, mean, happy, etc? Even the nicest person could throw a punch at someone when the time arises. Even the meanest person might give money to a beggar on a bright and sunny day. Even the happiest person cries themselves asleep when everything just gets too tough. Their inconsistencies are what make them human. If someone was ALWAYS nice or mean or happy, well they might be a robot. If people were as constant as y=mx+b then they wouldn’t be interesting. The most interesting people are the ones who color outside the lines.
In my introduction post, I talked about how I tend to develop my secondary characters better than my main characters. Main characters are troubling creatures. There is no perfect amount of good and bad in a character in which your readers will love. I can’t even count how many times I’ve read a book and felt that the characters were too perfect or too imperfect. It’s easy to tip the scale on both sides. Many characters are too perfect because as authors we don’t want our readers to tear our characters apart for being flawed. On the other hand, many characters are too imperfect in order to seem more human and flawed which causes the tearing apart.
I wish I could tell you a simple y=mx+b (can you tell this is one of my favorite equations? Wow, I’m so geeky. I have favorite equations -.-), but as we all know, writing is not that simple. In my current WIP, my MC is manipulative, vengeful, a tad snotty, but at the same time, she’s caring and thoughtful. She’s also the most complex character I have ever thought of. She is all over the walls in her personality which I love. In the past, my characters have been flawed but only slightly that the bordered being Barbies.
So how do you make amazing characters like my not-so-perfect MC? The best advice I have found is get to know your characters. No person can be defined in one word and neither should your characters. The better you get to know your characters then easier it will be to find out what words (plural NOT singular) they would be descried with. Don’t force your characters to be too perfect or imperfect because you think you have to. Write them how they are or you are basically committing purgery (I think that’s the legal jargon word for it) if you try to make them something they’re not. My MC gave me no say in how her personality would turn out. She kinda wrote herself.
Now even though I can’t give you the perfect formula, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve for developing your characters. Developing characters I think would be harder for pantsers than planners (I’m a planner myself), but I think anyone trying to get to know your characters should look at these sites no matter how difficult it may seem (your readers will thank you later). Character worksheets are a great way to develop characters more thoroughly. My personal favorite is Jody Hedlund’s character worksheet. I fill one out for all my main and secondary characters. Tumblr is another great place for character worksheets. A lot of people on Tumblr post things like “send me a number and I’ll answer a question.” Those questions tend to be more teen related (e.i. drugs, sex, etc). If you want to help make your characters less stereotypical, I would definitely suggest checking out The Bookshelf Muse’s Character Trait Thesaurus. Actually, I suggest checking their entire blog regardless.
My final tip isn’t a website but important none the less. Write. I know everyone says this, but it’s true. You know your characters best. If you have to write a billion and one scenes to get to know your characters better do it even if you only use one of those scenes. Thomas Edison once said “results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward....” So take that one step forward to getting to know your characters. You never know what kind of amazing character you will develop.