Characters are the backbone of any good novel, television show, or movie. In this guide, we will take a look at how to create Unique and Believable Characters for your novel or short story.
Even if your character is not human, they are the central focus of your storyline.
There are many ways to avoid putting sloppy characters in your work. This article will not only be covering how to avoid Mary Sues/Gary Stus, but it will also give you an outline for how to build a character into your story.
Center your character’s design around your setting
First of all, you want to make sure that your character design makes sense, depending on what your setting is. If you’re character sticks out too much without a real reason, it won’t make much sense in the storyline.
It’s very important to do extensive research about the type of setting you’re basing your story in and to know the social norms and clothing of that era. It’s okay if your character breaks social norms, however, it’s a bit unrealistic to put a green-haired, red-eyed ninja girl in the middle of 1600’s Colonial America.
Despite this, there are many loopholes to getting around setting barriers. It depends on the specific mechanics of your story; ie: time travel, alternate dimensions, etc. If you have a logical reason to put that green-haired, red-eyed ninja in the middle of 1600’s Colonial America, go ahead.
Another loophole is when you’re creating your own world or setting. This process takes a lot longer because you have to create an entirely new society from scratch. You can make an infinite amount of worlds and possibilities– That’s what fiction writing is for — However, there’s still a fine line between keeping things creative and going overboard with power.
Give your character strengths and weaknesses
Everything on this Earth has a set of strengths and weaknesses. These strengths and weaknesses vary between people, and so they will definitely vary between your characters. However, it is not okay to overpower or neglect your characters.
Making a believable character typically requires making them relatable to the readers in some sense. You should build around this rule very loosely, but still, keep it in mind. Villains don’t necessarily have to be relatable, but many readers enjoy an antagonist that they can connect with.
Overpowering your character unnecessarily will make them a Mary Sue, or Gary Stu. If you’ve never heard of these terms before, I’ll explain them. A Mary Sue is a character that has no apparent weaknesses and is therefore perfect. They are characters who are always loved by the rest of the cast, despite their bad decisions. They are characters that never lose a fight; Characters that are “automatically perfect” and never had to build their skills and talents.
These characters get annoying and disregarded fast. More readers are interested in a character who has flaws that they choose (or not choose, for that matter) to improve and work on; Characters who aren’t always guaranteed automatic victory.
However, with this in mind, it is also not a good idea to underpower your characters.
These characters are referred to as “Anti-Sue’s/Stu’s” and basically serve the opposite purpose. Anti Sue’s are the characters that have no skills or talents and have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. They don’t gain anything by the end of the story, and their main purpose is to be “bad” or “terrible” at everything they do.
Anti-Sue’s also grow stale quickly. Nobody wants to see a character whose only function is to be terrible at everything. These characters simply aren’t believable. You might get away with writing one in a loose, comedy-based storyline, but it’s better to stay away from these tropes altogether.
These are two opposite poles of the same spectrum. It’s best to keep your character somewhere in the middle in order to keep them balanced. Having a healthy set of strengths and weaknesses is the foundation of a strong, believable character.
Keep the backstory believable and balanced
Keeping points one and two in mind, it’s also important to have a believable backstory for your character.
Yes, it’s okay for your character to have a tragic backstory. However, there’s a fine line between “believable” and “cringy.”
It’s also important to keep your character’s backstory thorough, and relevant to the plot.
As humans, our past often dominates how we act, think, and go about our lives.
We often act based off of how we were raised, and based off of the environment we were raised in.
This will also be true for your characters, however, every single decision they make will not be based on the trauma they endured as a child.
Overdoing the amount of angst you burden your character with will not only make them seem less believable, but they might even fall into the Anti-Sue range.
Most readers love a bit of drama, however, if your character’s only contribution to the story is crying in a puddle of tears, your reader will get sick of them. In real life, nobody likes a Negative Nancy.
Another important thing to note is that your main character will most likely not be the only one who has felt pain.
Once again, tragedy and trauma can be beautifully executed if done correctly. Readers scoff at poorly written angst, which is why it’s always important to have a balance of angst and non-angst when writing a backstory.
The next thing to note is your setting or universe. It’s important to keep your character’s backstory relevant to the rules of your world. For example, if your world has a strict set of laws, your character will not evade arrest 7 times because of plot convenience.
Likewise, there’s heads and tails to every coin. If your character lives in a fantasy AU where teleportation magic is plausible, then go ahead and have them run from the police.
Keep it believable though. Unbelievable backstories are often the bases for Mary Sues/Gary Stus.
Determine their significance to the plot
A plotline is composed of many factors. These factors, depending on your writing style, can typically be rearranged in a variety of ways. The key components of any good novel are; A beginning, a variety of different conflicts/obstacles for your characters to face, resolution of those conflicts, one larger conflict (the climax of the story), resolution of the climax, and the ending.
Your character, depending on whether they are a side or main character, will need to contribute to the plot in some way, shape, or form. This is extremely important, because if the characters aren’t contributing to the plot, then your plot won’t move forward!
If your character simply does not fit into the plot, the easiest thing to do would be to set them aside and use them for another project. If you simply cannot get rid of them though, finding a way for them to work into your plotline may another alternative. This option may be easy or difficult, depending on the specifics of the story you’re trying to craft.
Well, there you have it! These are four key components to building any character from scratch.