Don Bosco is a writer who specializes in fiction for teens and children. His stories are inspired by Asian legends and pop culture. In 2015, his Sherlock Hong Adventures series was acquired by Marshall Cavendish for international release. He is a local co-organiser for StoryCode Singapore, which promotes transmedia storytelling across different platforms and formats. He also started the publishing studio Super Cool Books in 2011. His latest book is Imagine All This: How To Write Your Own Stories, published by Marshall Cavendish and available late-2016.
If you’re writing a story for the first time, you might feel a little helpless. Where should you start? What do you focus on? How will you know if you’ll enjoy working on your story idea? Here’s a big tip: the heart of any good story is AN AWESOME CHARACTER. Someone you will enjoy writing about, and even hope that you could meet in real life. Someone who perhaps reminds you of a nice friend or favourite family member.
Or even someone who reminds you of yourself, in a nice way.
Why is this important? Human beings are curious creatures. We have a natural desire to connect with people and find out more about them. So, if there’s an interesting character in your story, your readers will want to follow her around and find out if she ends up okay.
And if there are two interesting main characters in your story, wow, readers will want to know if they might get along, what sort of relationship might develop between them, and so on.
On the other hand, if the main character in your story is dull and does nothing remarkable, this could make your readers yawn and put your story away. In a hurry. They’ll go look at someone else’s story instead, hoping to find a character that fascinates them.
Now that you understand how this works, here are some ideas to help you develop great characters for your own story.
TIP #1: Make us curious
When we’re curious about someone, we want to know more about them. We’ll observe them closely and try to look for any information that will satisfy our curiosity. So think of ways to get us curious about your character. That’s a great start.
Jane looked around to make sure that there was nobody else in the room, and then she quickly hid the box behind the cupboard. She could feel something small fluttering inside. “I’m sorry, forgive me!” Jane whispered. She was trembling. “I can’t let them see you!”
What’s in Jane’s box? Why must she hide it away? What would happen if someone else found the box?
Suddenly, we’re curious. Jane seems like an interesting person caught in an unusual situation. We want to follow the story and find out what happens next.
Try this: Pick someone you know, perhaps a classmate or sibling or cousin. Is there anything unusual about her? Write a short paragraph about her, making her sound interesting and mysterious.
You can also practise writing about yourself, and make other people curious about you. This is one way to become more interesting and popular.
TIP #2: Make us anxious
There’s a saying, anxiety is the secret sauce of all good stories. When readers get anxious about something they come across in your story, they’ll want to read on just to see how things turn out, so that they can feel a sense of resolution and relief.
You can whip up some anxiety in your story by giving us a character that we can’t help liking, and then throwing this character into a pit of problems.
Many stories are full of heroes. These are basically people who are nice and go out of their way to help others. But while we admire them for this, we might not really care about them.
On the other hand, if the hero also has problems of her own, perhaps due to a bad habit or some past mistake, this actually makes us sympathetic. We can’t help feeling emotionally invested. We want to find out how she deals with her situation.
Try this: Let’s go back to the paragraph you just wrote for the first tip. Change the name and personal details, so that it’s no longer about anyone you know. It’s now a character that you can have fun developing in any direction you want.
Next, add one sentence explaining how he or she is helpful or heroic in certain situations. Perhaps because of an unusual talent, or a very special hobby, or even a secret power.
After that, add another sentence showing how he or she desperately needs help too. Too untidy? Always getting lost? Forgetful? Scared of crowds? Also: how does this become a problem? How might this somehow threaten her own safety or happiness?
You could do this exercise with a friend. Brainstorm different ideas and see how you can make us anxious about this character’s fate.
TIP #3: Show us family, friends and favourite animals
Sometimes a character’s uniqueness comes from her relationships at home, in school, or with animals. Perhaps she’s a very normal girl, but her mother is the Chief Magical Officer of a big corporation selling witchcraft services. Or he’s a rather ordinary boy, but he has a pet iguana that is so clever, it helps him rob banks.
Try this: Think about the character you created. Add an interesting friend, family member or favourite animal. Just spend time sitting somewhere comfortable and jotting down ideas.
At this point, you should have enough information to even make sketches, so you can visualise your character better.
Once you’re done, you’ll be all ready to head off on some amazing adventures with this character.