So I recently wrote about how to make compelling characters by adding a little bit of crazy to them. I firmly believe that is something they need, but it is certainly not all they need. I also feel that characters need to be as complete as possible to make them believable to the reader. They need to have lives, histories, wants, needs, and desires. Without these things, what would motivate them? Why would they get out of bed in the morning?

 

When I make new main characters, whether for my current story arc, or for some other project I am kicking around, I fill out a character sheet to keep track of their appearance, skills, abilities, equipment, alignment, general disposition, and so much more. Of course, this is all pretty easy for me, since I can use (mostly) the information in my own RPG to fill these out in a way that makes perfect sense to me. But I also don’t stop there.

 

I tend to go well beyond the basic game character sheet; conjuring complex, layered, and sordid histories for them. Information about how they did in school, what kinds of kids they hung out and grew up with, etc. I jot down things like what their favorite colors and flavors are, whether or not they are arachnophobic (and why), and so on. By the time I’m done, I know as much about my characters as I do about myself (sometimes more, I fear).

 

The idea here, is to make them so complete that you understand them on an intimate level that means you can write them in their own heads, or voices, or whatever term you want to use. When I’m done building a character, I can drop them into the world, present them with a problem, and then take up my usual role of game master, rather than putting them on rails and dictating where they will go. This is a concept I will talk about later, but the short version is that, when my characters and world are properly fleshed out, I don’t have to work too hard at the writing part of my job.

 

Just as the old adage professes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Only in this case it’s more to the tune of, “a few hours of detailed world and character building is worth days of labored writing pains.” Don’t get me wrong though; the writing is still laborious at times. It’s just… So much easier when you don’t have to stop and wonder what your character would do.

 

After you have a fully realized character, the next step is getting the reader to really empathize with them. I recently read a blog post by Jody Hedlund about ‘suturing’ the readers to your main characters. It sounds a bit gruesome, but the reality is that you really want that. You want your readers to be able to connect to your characters (or at least your main characters) so deeply that when they hurt, the reader feels the pain. When they are triumphant, the reader exults as if they have triumphed themselves!

 

There are a number of ways to ‘suture’ your readers to your characters, and Jody does a great job of describing how it’s done. I’m sure I’ll go on about it in some future rambling, but for now, I’ll just recommend you check out what she has to say and some of the great resources she has put forward to allow you to get even deeper into the matter.