Whether you’re working on a first draft of a novel, or rewriting your story for the tenth time, characters are what really hold a story together. If you’re having trouble getting to know your characters, writer B. Berry is here today with a method to try:
You may encounter this issue when you sit down to write a novel: Somehow, you’ve stumbled upon an amazing plot, the worldbuilding is coming together cohesively, and you cannot wait for That Certain Twist.
But, with dawning horror, you realize that oh no, novels need more than a plot and a setting. They need characters to go in it. You figure your main character will be… a person. That sounds about right.
But what else?
Characters are most commonly what readers will fall in love with. Whether your project is plot-driven or character-driven, they are a vital part, and not something to fudge lightly.
There are many resources for character creation online, but I’ll share with you my favorite quick, dirty, and easy—yet somehow solid—method for creating characters entirely from scratch.
For a solid base, think of character traits. Most can be tentatively sorted into “good” and “bad”. It’s the mix of these that will make your character rounded and believable. But you still want them to be likeable, no matter how flawed, right?
The simplest beginning method is to take X amount of Good Traits, X minus 1 Bad Traits, put them in a blender, and pour out a basic character concept. (I know, how dare I add any sort of math to the writing process.) I call it the Minus 1 Rule, because it can be any amount of traits, any amount of characters, and apply to any type of character, be it protagonist, antagonist, side… or that one you meant to be a one-off but somehow became your not-so-secret favorite.
“The simplest beginning method is to take X amount of Good Traits, X minus 1 Bad Traits, put them in a blender, and pour out a basic character concept.”
Example time! Let’s say I want to give my character three positive traits. I want them to be quick-witted, intelligent, and physically strong. So now we add two negative traits—they’re also a coward and unfriendly.
Context will drastically change how these traits are viewed, of course; a coward in a military sci-fi is going to be different than a coward in a YA romance. An unfriendly person in a character introduction will come off differently than an unfriendly person at a funeral. So because of the context of your story, you don’t have to worry about making your character too simple or too much like another character, and you may be able to play up either their best traits or their worst traits.
But speaking of other characters—it takes a cast (usually) to make a story, so chances are you’ll have to make quite a few, possibly in batches. So this step in the creation process would be The Absolute Perfect Time to figure out if you want any matching sets!
The most obvious of these character sets would probably be the foil, so think of your protagonist and antagonist. Do you want them both to have a temper, but your hero ultimately holds theirs, so thus they remain Good and Pure? Or perhaps your story is a battle of wits with two incredibly intelligent characters. (This is also a good time to think of matching/opposing/related backstories for your cast.)
Other tics or traits can come out after you have a solid base to build upon. Maybe the traits you initially picked don’t stick around, or morph into something else. Don’t take this rule as anything to set in stone.
Character creation is nothing scary, and you should never worry over-much about making your cast likeable—it is all about setting up a solid foundation for your cast to flourish upon. With the Minus 1 rule, it’s a quick and dirty way to tilt the “Readers Will Find This Dude Likeable” scale in your favor. Good luck, and good writing!
B. Berry is a novelist with a love of dark fantasy, LGBTQ rep, large casts, and larger wordcounts. She has published the first two in her psychological horror trilogy, THE ROOK and THE RAM, with the finale to come soon, and eagerly works on her next series beyond that. You can find her at @bberrywrites on twitter, or her website at www.bberrywrites.com.