Writing Tips – Mind Maps: Characters
Probably the most important part of any story are the characters. They are the inhabitants of your world, and if you cannot describe them, then your audience will be unable to connect. The challenge is to create characters that are believable. How do you do this?
Think about people you know – what do you know about them? If you were to describe them to someone else, what would you say about them? Would you describe their physical appearance, or describe their personality or a combination of both? Below is a mind map that covers all aspects that could be used to describe a person; if I’ve missed any, let me know!
There are two main sections – types and personalisation.
The main character. The hero. This character may champion a cause and carry other characters through the journey, but it’s not critical. They may only be going through a personal journey, that requires support from other characters, but who do not travel the journey as well. This is the one character who the reader must feel some sort of connection with, either in a positive or negative form, otherwise the majority of the story will be uninteresting. This requires the character to have significant depth – a back story (which the reader may, or may not know), traits and other insights that will help the reader connect with the character.
The easiest way to produce a believable main character is to sit down and write just about them, as if you were going to write a biography – but of course, not that long. Describe how they look, what they do, their personality…as many things as you want until you feel like you have created a three-dimensional character. Once they are in the story, look at how closely their actions reflect the person you set out to describe. This will then set the scene for what their alignment is. Are they are an inherently good or evil, or are they neutral and will react differently in different situations? Or are they a dark horse, and what you think about them is flawed/different from what is portrayed; with only small amount of detail given about one particular side of the character, this could be exploited later in the story to completely change the direction of the story. It’s up to you, the writer, to decide what kind of main character you wish to construct and how much of that you wish to divulge to the readers.
The supporting characters can be companions of the main characters or they could just be people met throughout the story. These characters should be used to progress the story; creating “extras” that are in the story but do not contribute just waste your efforts in creation and description.
How much detail you give about these characters is completely in the writer’s control, but generally, the more important the character is to the story, the more information that should be given. Will they be mysterious? Don’t tell the readers their name and only give a very brief insight into their personality, so they thirst to know more. Will they be evil? Paint them in a bad light – make them devious so that the readers will dislike them.
Who is telling this story? Is it the main character, or one of the supporting characters? This is important to ensure that this is remembered, so that it isn’t confused throughout the story. The narrator is an important part of the story, but they may not necessarily need to be described in detail. It may even be necessary to have more than one narrator throughout, to see the story from different perspectives. It all depends on how you wish to unravel the story.
All of your characters must be described to some level, so the reader can form them in their mind. This may be a description of their physical being or their character, or both. Here are some (hopefully most!) of the things you could describe to create your characters.
What is the character’s name? Is it a generic name or something exotic? Are they even from this planet? Their name can quickly set the reader’s perception of them. Choose your name carefully. Will they be known through an alias or nickname? I find naming characters the hardest part; when coming up with names, they all seem dreadfully lame. Will have to work on that.
This covers all aspects of the character’s personality. What their inherent values and beliefs are, what traits, habits, abilities and how they respond in different situations are all part of what kind of person this character is or may become throughout the story. These can change, but there must be some sort of catalyst for this change, as people do not change their personality easily. Perhaps an evil character changes sides; but you need to ask why they would? Why would their beliefs and actions change? There has to be a reason contained within the story – or perhaps they weren’t evil at all?
These are important for any story. How do the characters know each other? These relationships will control how the characters will interact with one another; characters that know each other well will be more at ease and likely to communicate compared to those that have just met. As the writer, it is required that you can portray this through the story, so the reader can understand the actions of certain characters and can gauge where the characters fit with one another. As the story progresses, the reader should be able to watch the change in the relationships as the characters being to grow and change with one another.
What a character does for a living or as a hobby can have an important bearing – skills that they would have learned through those activities could be used in certain situations within the story. It’s disappointing when the characters are stuck in a situation and then, out of nowhere, one of the characters knows how to fly a plane. Hint at these early, so that when the situation arrives that they need to use this ability, the reader will vaguely remember it and won’t be thrown by the introduction of this ability.
Of course, the way the character looks is extremely important, their build, hair and face are usual descriptors. There is another level to that – go into detail about their clothing, what are they wearing can help explain the environment they are currently in. Does the character have any distinguishing features? A scar? a tattoo?
A generally missed aspect of characters is their health – both physical and mental. Do they have any injuries or illnesses, either mentally or physically? How is their mood? The mood of a character can modify how they would react.
If a character has most of these described to the readers, then they will become a very solid character. How many of them do you wish to describe and offer to the reader? This is completely optional – but the more believable you want your character to be, the more that must be offered. If their personality is shrouded in mystery, more physical description can allow for a better understanding of that character. It is all about balance – divulge too much and it feels like you are learning their life story, not enough and you don’t connect.
Find my other mind maps at the directory!