How I developed my main character

How I developed my main character

Before telling you how I developed my character, I want to tell you a little story. A story about love, horror and deceit. No, I’m only kidding; it’s not a story about that. It’s the story of how my first-ever main character was born.

So when I began to write my first draft, I was looking for four main characters that would have a strong impact on any reader that would happen to read the story. Characters that people could relate to and actually feel bad for. Characters that people would sometimes hate with all their guts. Characters that felt alive.

This story I was writing was about the end of the world; a post-apocalyptic scenario. These four characters I wanted to develop would be struggling to survive against the horrors of the world after nuclear attacks, diseases and other people that mug others for their own survival. It was a pretty solid idea at first, but later on when I was about a third into the story I realized that the whole thing sounded too generic.

I decided to dump that end-of-the-world story and start off fresh with a totally different one. To do that, I opened up a new document and stared blankly at the freaking cursor for several ages until an idea popped into my mind. I had already “sorta” developed a character in my other story, and I actually liked her a lot, so I decided to start off with my new story with her as the main character. There would be no other main characters or switching from POV’s throughout the story. The whole story would be told from her voice and the world would be described from what she heard and saw from her own ears and pale, green eyes.

So I had a main character now and all I needed was an excellent plot. Once I got the idea, I realized that my plot needed a character that would be a bit of an introvert; a person that spends way too much time alone and daydreaming. This was a bit of a problem, because as I was writing the draft, I found it hard to keep up with the story because of this; my character spent too much time alone without interacting with others. So I came up with a neat idea to solve this, and everything began to shine like a freshly-polished emerald.

But going back to the development of my main character, what I did was simply to put myself in her shoes. And I mean really putting myself in her shoes. I took a leaf out of Heath Ledger’s book and decided to exclude myself from reality to imagine that I was this character of mine. My real name disappeared from existence for several weeks, my interaction with people was to an extreme minimum, and my mind was constantly thinking in the way my character would think in my story. All of this made me “feel” my character in a strange way, and the emotions inside me were overwhelming. During this stage of writing I discovered that I’m actually a very sensitive person; I never realized that I could shed a tear or two by just pretending that my imaginary loved-ones were going through “tough times”. Also, apart from helping me out with my writing, it helped me discover a hidden part of my own being that I didn’t know existed.

So, yeah. That’s how I developed her. I “acted out” my character for some time and that helped me create her as realistically as I could. It also helped to write down every single detail: Her favorite color and food, her fears, her pet peeves, her hobbies, all that good stuff. Once I had the details, the acting and the feelings deep inside my soul, all there was left to do was the hardest part of all: The writing.

To end this day’s blog, I just want so say that it’s important to develop well your characters because in the end, you don’t really want characters, you want people. You want your readers to actually believe that the people in your novel exist or existed. To do this, you have to pour your soul into your pages and let everybody know that your book is alive.

So act out your characters and feel them so you can create people that real people will believe in. You might sometimes look like a wacko during this stage, but in the end, it’s totally worth it. Books become unforgettable and movie characters, like Heath Ledger’s “The Joker” in The Dark Knight Rises, become icons in the movie industry.

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” – Ernest Hemingway

-Ralph Serr


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