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Your Genesis: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Compelling Characters

Written by Micah Xu, Converge multimedia journalism intern and junior at Gwinnett School of Math, Science & Technology (GSMST)

Characters. We’ve all heard of them and cherish them in novels, movies and TV shows. From the escapades of Harry Potter and his friends or Katniss Everdeen’s struggle against the Capitol in the Hunger Games series, characters define stories and are the vibrance that shapes the world they live in.

With that being said, many people brush off the idea of making their own character or story for a multitude of reasons. These reasons can range from thinking that the character creation process is too hard for them or believing there is no point in making them, since they believe that there is no reason for them to write. This, while true for some, is not true for the majority of people—especially amateur writers who are just starting out, scared of the prospect of making original characters. That is why this column is here, for those who wish to make the most of their character creation experience.

First, find a part of yourself. This may sound strange, but creating a character that you can sympathize with is much easier when they have similar weaknesses to you. Perhaps they are socially awkward, stuttering and stammering their way through the day, or perhaps they are a bit too aggressive and abrasive with their words and end up pushing people away when they really do not want to.

Or perhaps it is a shared interest that comes with its own struggles or triumphs, such as making the character an artist who is trying to find the next big thing to put onto their blank canvas, or perhaps a gardener who is looking to recreate a little piece of Eden in their home. Having a flaw or other part of yourself in your original character is how you and your audience will connect with them, and it can help to define who they are. This is the “what” part of creation.

Second, make a story for the character. Make them different somehow, otherwise the risk of making them too similar comes into play. Making a character too similar to their creator is not inherently bad, but it can come off as contrived or strange to most people if they see an idealized version of the author running through a different world. Branch off of that flaw or unique aspect and create a story for them.

Perhaps they are socially awkward because they were hurt and harassed in school, or perhaps they have a complicated relationship with their parents, causing them to have a low opinion of themselves. The sky’s the limit with reasons for the character to act the way they do, but make sure it stays grounded. This is the “why” and “when” part of creation.

Lastly, once the character has a good backstory, develop them over the course of a story. Whether the character overcomes their flaw or succumbs to it, there are always going to be heavy, character-changing moments in the story, and that is where their flaws and virtues can change.

Perhaps the socially awkward character is placed in a situation where they have to step up and be confident out of necessity, and they slowly begin to get the hang of it. These moments will pull on the heartstrings of your audience and will no doubt be the highlights of your story.

And with that, you’ll have a compelling, interesting character for your next story or roleplaying game. Remember to make sure all the characters in a story mesh well, and you’ll be jerking tears and laughs from your audience in no time. Remember, each character should have a piece of your soul; each character should have a piece of you.