Build a Core for your Main Characters

Your character is more than sex, age, and physical attributes.  The core of your character is what makes the audience get involved and care about what happens in the story.  Getting to the core of your characters inspires unique dialogue.  Knowing the basic character core confirms when your character is working—whether he is “right” or “wrong”—in the story. And, you have a snapshot for keeping your character on track and consistent even in the third, fourth or fifth draft. Yep, it happens.  Better yet, knowing your character core allows for quick adjustments as the characters evolve during writing your story.

So how do you go about creating multi-dimensional characters?  It isn’t as complicated as you are often advised.  It is a two-step process.

First recognize and use indispensable (core) traits for your character.

  • Role in the story – for example, lead, love interest, buddy, villain
  • Age and description

Believe it or not, I’ve seen main characters introduced in scripts from beginning writers with no age and description.  We just have to guess. Make certain that the first time a character appears you include this basic information.

The second stage is more creative.  Now choose three or four optional traits to add dimension and make a difference for the character. These are the traits that provide subtext.

  • Flaw
  • Character arc
  • World view
  • Want/Need-what pursuing, need have to have under surface
  • Motto-part of what they are
  • Mission/Agenda- covert?
  • What makes the character unique?

So, how does this work?

Tessa, 24, short black curls and big round blue eyes…

Flaw – gets emotional, and worse, irrational when things don’t make sense.

Mission/Agenda (goal) – become director of the space station

Need (under the surface, i.e. subtext) – a loving partner so she doesn’t “have to do everything” herself

Character arc – standing alone to asking for help

With just a few strategic traits you can set your character up for internal and external conflict, a character arc, with a multi-dimensional presence in your story.  The traits keep popping up in the story to make events challenging, create personal problems that stand in direct conflict to achieving the goal, and make your character interesting and empathetic to your audience.

You can build on this “snapshot” of your characters as the story progresses.

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