Cat Eff is a writer with experience in theatrical writing and slam poetry.
How to Write Good Characters
"Good character" is a bit of a misnomer. While we can point to characters within media that we consider good characters, there isn't any consistent root to why. A good character can be complex, like the incredibly prevalent in television anti-hero, but a good character can also be a symbol, like a comic book superhero. One of these characters has the combination of flaws and positive attributes associated with a character that engages an audience, while the other is simply good and wholesome. And both are good characters.
But that doesn't mean that writing good characters is simply a matter of "having a feel for it" or "Just guessing" Rather that there are multiple different types of good characters. Therefore, it is empirical that you begin your quest to write good characters by first identifying what type of characters you're trying to write.
Like a lot of writing, writing good characters often starts by figuring out your goal. As you get more experienced, this tends to become more subconscious. However, if you're stuck or otherwise need help on something, writing down your goal can be a big help.
With characters, you must take in mind the audience of your character and the piece that you are writing in a whole. Ask yourself:
- What is the genre and energy that this piece will have? Comedic? Dramatic? Sad? Is it a call to action?
- What is this characters role in the story? Are they an antagonist? a protagonist? A side character?
- Beyond their role in the story, what's the role in the world of the story? Are they a parent? Are they an adventurous best friend? Are they liked by those around them? disliked? ignored?
- Do you want the audience to like them? Dislike them? Should the audience find them funny? What should the audience think of them?
- Does this character get a lot of internal focus? Is it important for your audience to know they're complex?
Now that you have figured out the idea of who this character is and what their role is, you can now start to dissect what exactly you and your audience need from this character. Not every character needs to be fully realized and not every character needs an even amount of clear and obvious positive traits and flaws.
Now that you have that figured out, it is time to create your character. Use them, write about them, and see what sticks and what doesn't stick. Surface level attributes and roles are one thing, but in order to truly develop a character, you must use them in practice. You must write with them, get a feel of how they interact with the world around them and the other characters in your piece.
After all, a character in a bubble isn't much of a character.
After your initial writing and development work, it is always good to go back and tweak and change things when you feel fit. Characters often change throughout the process of actually using them in your work. This is normal, and, in fact, is actually a good thing. If your characters are static and surface level from how you think about them and how you write them, your characters are probably pretty boring. The abstract can only hold so many things and there's no shame in that.
The Most Important Part
The most important parts of writing characters are that:
- You enjoy what you're writing
- Your audience enjoys what you're writing
If you're not enjoying writing your characters, if it is boring or unpleasant to you, then you need to take a change of course. How you feel when you write shines through to your work, and if you aren't enjoying it, your audience will probably know.
If you are working in an environment where others are routinely looking at your work, where you have an audience, it is important to listen to them. How are they taking this character? Is it how you intended? Are they taking it in a different way than intended that's okay? That's not okay? Approach these things with kindness and with respect to your audience and adjust accordingly.
Cat Eff (author) on March 12, 2021:
Thank you :)
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on March 11, 2021:
Interesting and helpful, thanks Catt.