Characterisation Tips by Allison Symes
Inventing my own people has always been my favourite aspect to story writing. I believe if you get the character right, so much of the storyline will arise from that portrayal.
If my character is a villain, then I know they are going to do something criminal (even if I haven’t worked out what that is yet) and the conflict will inevitably come from whoever tries to stop them. So basic story structure is already in place.
I thought I’d share ten thoughts which have helped me as I outline “my people” prior to writing their stories up (and it is their story. You do want the reader to be totally taken by the characters).
Time for tips then!
Can your reader identify with your character?
What do you think this identification hinges on?
Can your character cause a reaction in a potential reader? (It doesn’t have to be a “good” reaction - think of the impact a well-portrayed villain can have on a story).
What do you the writer think of your character? (You are your own first reader).
Outlining your character can be as simple or as detailed as you like but it can be a useful way to help you picture your people properly. Once you’ve got them fixed in your head, it is easier to write their stories up. (Note I said easier, not easy!).
When naming a character, think about their age. You want a name that would appropriate for that age. I can’t think of anyone called Sky living in the Victorian era for example but it would be a good name for someone born in the 1980s or thereabouts.
It is the characters that stick in readers’ minds so it is worth getting them right. Great characters give the storyline momentum. That in turn comes through to your reader. Think about the last book you couldn’t put down and ask yourself why. It will be connected to this point.
A great plot is strengthened by gripping characters who will take that storyline and run with it.
A great plot is weakened by characters who do not grip the reader. I’ve read stories like this and am always left feeling the story was a let down. I never feel that way when the character is wonderful.
Conflict arises naturally from well-portrayed characters. Think about heroes and villains. They play off each other. The villain will always try to use the hero’s weaknesses against them. But you as the writer need to know what those weaknesses are and what your villain is capable of and why.
I’ve sometimes written flash stories which are character studies (and are effectively monologues). There, I’ve tried to make the character’s voice memorable and I usually try to elicit sympathy from the reader. I think about why a reader would sympathize with the character and outline said character accordingly.
Happy writing and I hope you find these tips useful.