When creating characters, I think most writers understand that they need to think about them in terms of physicality and personality.
After all your readers need to have a vague notion of the characters’ looks and attitudes in order to connect to them.
The multi-aspect character
In my earlier article on How to make realistic memorable characters, I covered some basics regarding physical appearance and personality.
Now, there is another aspect you need to consider when creating characters. They are made more by the company they keep.
Characters do not live in isolation, (unless you are writing about the last man on earth or some weird hermit lady living in a cave a million miles from anyone… but let’s assume you’re not, ok?)
When you first create your characters, you may view them singularly. However, we need to think about them in groups, reacting with other people.
The sum of your interactions
Take yourself for example – you will have family, friends, teachers or bosses, work colleagues, carers, neighbours, the guy who fixes your car, the lady who runs the local dojo, the teenager who runs your groceries through the checkout etc.
Each of these people or groups of people will interact with you differently. You may treat one group with a deep affection, whereas another may get nothing more than a passing courtesy.
Some will be authoritative and others not so much. Some, you may do anything for, while others you may be less inclined to give them anything, including your time.
Our lives are built on interactions, on connections with other people and we change depending on who we are dealing with, who we are working with, speaking with etc.
Shaping your characters
In a novel, this host of characters will shape each other. Your main protagonist and antagonist will be moulded not just by their appearance, personality, conflicts, struggles and goals, but by those around them.
Consider the intricacies of interaction, how we change with them, how to react differently to different people over the same issue.
This is not just about adding some background colour to your story but about fleshing out the reality of it.
So, next time you consider your characters, think about them with their friends and family, their neighbours, their mechanic, their doctor, the homeless man they pass every day…. look for some realism that can come from this.
After all, you will have a wealth of knowledge and experience throughout your own life about how people can interact differently.
The last person alive
In regards to the “hermit lady” and “last man on earth”, now let’s be honest, there are stories and movies that focus on one sentient character.
So, if you decided to write something like this, how would you create interactions?
What appears to be a typical method (especially in movies) is the creation of something to interact with.
Here are three movie examples:
Moon – Sam Bell played by Sam Rockwell is an Astronaut overseeing the automated facility on the moon.
He is coming to the end of a 3-year stint. With barely any outside communications, he is effectively alone except for a computer system called GERTY.
So, in essence, the computer became his only interaction. Even from this, you see a distinct reactionary process of how the two interact.
Castaway – In Castaway, Chuck Noland played by Tom Hanks plays a man who ends up on a deserted island after a plane crash.
Even here an interaction is created (albeit with himself) when he creates the character of Wilson from a volleyball.
I Am Legend – Robert Neville played by Will Smith, is a scientist and a survivor of a man-made plague that turned people into bloodthirsty mutants.
He lives and works in New York City, trying to contact other possible survivors while trying to find a cure. His interaction comes from him talking to his dog, Sam.
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In each of these cases, the characters are given interactions. In reality, Robert Neville’s character is simply talking to himself but by creating this external character, he is able to alleviate the crippling loneliness while also being able to evaluate and discuss his situation as if with another person.
So even in these single-character driven stories, the inclusion of non-sentient beings whether external (GERTY & SAM the Dog) or created internally (WILSON) allows another form of interaction.
Just something to think about.
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