Chapter 1 - The basics, what is a character?

Chapter 1

Let’s start with the basics. Before we get carried away trying to make a character interesting, we need to first understand what a character is at its essence. Any ideas?

Put simply, a character is a person in a story. This ‘person’ might be a child, a fairy godmother, a dog, a wizard, a teacher, a tree, a dragon, and many other strange and wonderful things. Similarly, the ‘story’ might be a novel, a short story, a play, a poem, a film, or even a song. A character has feelings, goals, flaws, strengths and weaknesses, just like people in real life do, too. If you were a character in a book, you should be as complicated as you are in real life, with a past, present and future. We should be able to imagine the character’s life outside of the context of the story. The story itself offers us a glimpse into significant and interesting parts of a character’s life and experience.

Usually, at the end of a story, a character will have changed – and this is the reason we read about characters. If nothing happens to a character, and she doesn’t change in anyway, that’s usually because the story is unsuccessful, and makes for a bit of a boring read. If we start reading a story about a young boy who eats lots of toast and wants to be an astronaut, and nothing happens – he doesn’t try to become an astronaut or interact with people or even think about space – we’ll likely stop reading, or at least feel pretty disappointed by the time we get to the end and he’s still just a young boy eating lots of toast. Luckily, there are a lot of easy ways to make the story, and the character, more interesting.

Most stories have at least one character who undergoes some important change over the course of the story. These characters are called dynamic characters. A character who doesn’t change is called a static character. You can think of static characters as background characters, in whom you as a reader don’t really invest. Readers normally aren’t as curious about characters who don’t change as they are about the ones who do. So as a writer, it’s important to think about what sorts of changes your character might undergo. Dynamic characters make for interesting characters, because as readers they make us curious. Whenever you make your reader ask a question about your character and invest in them, you make your reader want to read more – which is always the goal when you’re writing!

So first of all, to write interesting characters means writing dynamic characters who have the ability to change. Think about the boy who wants to be an astronaut. In what ways could he change? Follow along to Chapter 2, and we’ll discuss a magic formula that should help us do the trick.