30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Twenty-Three

Exploring the theme.

Every book has at least one. No theme, no story. Simple as that.

What is a theme? If you need to ask… fair enough. There’s too much to remember, and we have Google at our fingertips.

The theme of your story is the idea that your readers will think about – the subject/issue/topic that comes up throughout the story.

Ask yourself: what do I want to say? What do I want my readers to think about when they finish reading?

You want your theme to be present throughout the story – so this means within your supporting characters and subplots.

Themes are much simpler than you would expect, too. Think of it in terms of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The theme was slow and steady wins the race. Easy enough, right?

Just keep in mind: you’re informing us WHY this story needs to be told.

30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Twenty-One

The Guide

Every character has one. Whether it’s an older friend or relative, there’s someone who possesses wisdom or power that the protagonist just doesn’t quite have yet.

Think of your favorite books and movies. Who was the character that aided the protagonist? How did they do so?

The previous exercises should be done with the intent of answering one question: how should they best support the protagonists’ outer goal?

If it’s possible for them to understand what the inner conflict is for the protagonist, even better.

Don’t rely too hard on the supporting characters, but DO make sure you find that balance. They exist for a reason – they are devices for you to use… while also needing to be important and human.

It’s a tough job, being a writer.

30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Twenty

The Love Interest

Maybe this doesn’t apply to your novel – it doesn’t always have to – but it’s good to keep in mind.

Why should I root for this potential couple?

Again, I want you to repeat previous character creating exercises, but build them a little bit around the protagonist. Why does the protagonist like this person? How do they compliment each other?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, why would they be bad for each other?

How does their trauma affect how they choose romantic partners (if at all)?

30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Nineteen

Supporting Characters

I’ve said this before, but the ultimate sin of any fiction is being boring.

Nobody wants to see a boring character on screen. Or on the page.

Think about the characters where people say, “they stole the show!” Those are the characters you want to write, because they resonate with readers.

Experience forms our choices, just like it will form your protagonists’. The supporting characters exist to help challenge them. I know I’m drilling this into your heads, but conflict and change is KEY.

Grab that list of your protagonists’ traits and habits. Write out the supporting characters as if to compare – and maybe contrast. Figure out where they were born, how long they’ve known the character, etc. Come up with your own beach episode – drop the characters on a random beach and decide how they would interact and react to each other.

Your main character isn’t the only one going on a journey. They can’t hold the giant pillar that is your story on their own. They need help, and those helpers can’t be flimsy pieces of paper.

30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Eighteen

An “excerpt” folder.

Every writer has one. There’s scenes or bits of dialogue that are so loud in your head, you have to jot them down. They might not fit into what you’re writing right now, but it’s too good to let slip away.

I have dozens of these files, and oftentimes, I end up not using them.

However, they are important to the writing process. Why?

Because they tell me details I otherwise would’ve never learned.

You can discover a lot about your character in the smallest bursts of dialogue or action. Make a habit of writing down EVERYTHING.

30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Seventeen

Be afraid.

The utmost terrifying concept is usually out of your control. It’s different when you can choose to face your fears.

Once you realize that you can’t control another person’s behavior, life becomes so much easier. This is especially true in writing. YOU control the story, not your characters. They do not know what’s coming to them the way you do.

Set another timer for ten minutes, and figure out what scares them in their core.

Whom (or what) are they terrified of losing?

Answer this for both the protagonist, and the antagonist.

Are they afraid of failure?

This ties back a teensy bit into yesterday’s lesson, because if they’re afraid to fail, how far are they willing to go to prevent that?

30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Sixteen

Revenge is a dish best served with fries.

We’ve all been in quarantine for a while now. You know for a fact: putting someone under pressure can reveal a lot. This extends to your characters. When they’re backed into a corner, it’s a learning opportunity for you as the writer, and them as the character.

How far is the protagonist willing to go to achieve their goal?

How far are they willing to go to stop the antagonist?

Flip these questions for your villains!

How far are they willing to go to stop the protagonist?

How far would they go for revenge?

You might be surprised by what you find out.

30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Fifteen

Get Uncomfortable.

I’ve mentioned before that stories can’t exist without conflict – good, memorable stories, anyways.

Your character has to evolve, and if they’re comfortable, then they’re not changing.

Give yourself ten minutes, and make a list for your character. What is the most uncomfortable thing they could be asked to do? Why is it so uncomfortable specifically to them?

30 Day Character Building Challenge

Day Fourteen

Actions speak louder than words.

The worst thing a writer can do is write something out of character. Unless there’s a purpose to the behavior, be careful.

Think about the backstory you gave your character. Think about their morals and values. What has been displayed so far in your story?

These answers will affect the choices your character makes.

A character who abides by the law won’t suddenly rob a bank – but what could make them?

There’s an episode of Black Mirror called Shut Up and Dance, and while it’s incredibly fucked up (as that whole show is), it’s an interesting look at “out of character” behavior. An unseen antagonist is forcing the hand of multiple people, because their morals have been compromised.

Imagine how that episode would change if a character had no morals.

Imagine the same for your story. Do the actions of your characters make sense? If you can’t tell me exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing, you need to either dig deeper, or consider that the action isn’t in their character.

How to Create Interesting Characters

Writing phenomenal characters is arguably the most crucial part of your novel. Readers want to connect with the protagonist, and you want your main character to be memorable. 

Think about some of your favorite books. How often to you cite them as your inspiration for becoming a writer? Do you ever hope that someone will say the same about you and your characters one day? It’s a great dream to have – I think most writers want this. 

Sometimes, it’s not even the main character that sticks in your brain. I know one of my favorites from Stephen King is Holly Gibney. Though she only had a role in the second half of The Outsider, she stuck with me. I related to her, because of how eccentric she was. There were little actions she would take that turned me into the “haha, I do that” vine. 

She single-handedly made me want to read the Bill Hodges trilogy, because I wanted to see more of her. 

You can write great characters that leave a lasting impact on your reader. It’s (thankfully) incredibly easy. 

When you come up with a character, you need to think of who they are as a person. 

“But Jam, why does this matter?” 

Creating real characters is essential for having readers connect and fall in love with your story. 

Because the story isn’t just the plot. The best books are character driven. 

If your characters seem like real people, your readers begin to relate to them. They become invested in the main characters’ problems, and they care about how the character overcomes their struggles. With more depth to a character, you give your readers something to grasp onto. 

So what are some ways to make your character real? 

I have a couple tips, all of which I use every time I come up with a new character. 

1.) Personality Traits 

I know. Duh, right? 

You would be surprised how many writers don’t think of this. Sometimes, they commit the cardinal sin of inserting themselves into their story. Except it’s not them, per se. It’s everything they want to be – regardless of how little all those traits make sense. 

Think of Twilight. 

I know it’s popular to slam dunk on this series, but I have every right (I was a fan, as a tween). Bella is everywhere. She’s anti-social and awkward, but she’s the life of the party and just so loved. Nothing is earned for her. She has no real taste in anything – no favorite movies, no favorite songs, no sense of humor. 

Any details about her possible personality are just set up as a board for Edward to bounce off. 

Now think of Harry Potter. 

He’s a quiet kid, with some incredibly sassy (and rightfully so) thoughts. He – for the most part – can hold his tongue because he knows to pick and choose his battles. We know this stems from living with the Dursleys, and we see how it translates through the rest of his life with teachers and classmates. The same can be said for his modesty. 

Both have their positive traits, but there is one glaring difference. 

Bella’s negative traits aren’t truly treated as negative. Harry’s ignorance to the wizarding world can be a problem from time to time, and it does hold him back. One of his defining Gryffindor traits is ABSOLUTELY the cause for Sirius not being able to become a free man (fuck being the bigger person, he should have let Sirius kill Peter, and the whole story would’ve changed). 

You have to be able to let your characters be hated as much as they are loved. Those complicated feelings are what make them so memorable. Making everything black and white is a huge disservice to your readers – give them something to argue over. To discuss

2.) Habits 

Whether good or bad, people have habits that make them stand out from others. Maybe your character whistles when they’re nervous and they get on everyone’s nerves. Maybe they like to stress bake, or stress exercise, or stress eat. Maybe they don’t show that they’re stressed and they’re just annoyingly happy all the time. 

Figure out what your character does in response to normal, everyday events. This can translate to reactions to events in your story. Do they get angry over the slightest inconvenience and physically lash out? Or would they shut down completely and bite their nails down to the nubs? 

Think of the characters that are comically bad at handling coffee. Think of the ones who hate affection and prefer fighting. Think of the person who smokes a cigarette over only the biggest problems. 

Tell your reader (in so many words) how they burn off steam, grieve, or celebrate the small victories. Keep these responses in line with their personality traits, and you’ll notice how the characters begin to peel from the pages and take their shape as real people. 

3. Flaws/Damage/Overall History 

Uncovering your character’s flaws is important. Delve into their backstory and figure out what makes them work the way they do. 

The goal is to make the characters like real people, and that means they are products of their past. If you’re scared of intimacy, it’s time to buckle up, because we need to get very intimate with our character’s backstories. 

No, they’re not always tragic, but we still need to know. 

Did they participate in their fourth-grade play? Why or why not? Did someone hold them back, or did they get a taste for the spotlight? 

Any wounds (whether emotional or physical) will likely shape who your character becomes – it affects their choices, how they see themselves, and what they believe in. The damage could go as far as to interfere with how they handle relationships, or themselves. Sometimes, it even keeps them trapped in false beliefs. 

Those could potentially be the source of conflict for your character, as a novel is about the journey from point A to point B. These flaws could be destructive, or stall the growth and happiness of your character. By the end of their journey, readers want to see the protagonist get their happy ending. In this case, you want to figure out how they can get there. What needs to happen to help your character heal and grow? 

Now, if your character had a perfectly dandy childhood/life, that’s fine. You’ll just need to find your conflict elsewhere. 

By using these three methods, you’ll be able to flesh out a captivating character that makes your book nearly impossible to put down. Readers will be glued to the page, because it feels like they know these people.