It’s not enough to know the types of fictional characters to create what I call alive fictional characters. Developing such a fictional character might demand a little more research, and you’ll agree with me that it’s not always easy to find all the information in one place.
That’s why I created this series – to help you sketch your fictional character development. Today I wanna talk about something that I call Character Elements.
What Are Character Elements?
If you google “character elements of a fictional character”, you will most likely find a list that I covered in the last blog post. But I would like to expand the idea of what the elements of a character in literature can be.
Your fictional character can be fully fictional or based on a real person. But no matter how you want to start creating your character, you will need some basics to begin with. These basic elements are so obvious, but it can still happen that you overlook something and miss it. The simplest things can sometimes be the hardest one to wrap your mind around.
Fictional character is the most important part of your story. There is no story without a character. You can invent or recreate a beautiful scenery and make it all fall apart in war, but let’s ask the rhetorical question – if a tree falls in an empty forest, does it still produce a sound if there’s no one to hear it? The same goes for the storyline – if there is no character to “live it”, does it serve a purpose?
I will expand more on the surroundings and scenery in the next series, but for now, let’s keep it short and sweet. Even though he/she is the most important for your storytelling, your fictional character can’t exist without the element of a scene. Even though a scene is something dynamic and it changes with the character and around it, the scene can be observed as an important element of a fictional character. Why? Because it affects the character’s behavior and growth.
Your fictional character won’t be the same if you place him/her in a beautiful home with expensive furniture and in a rented apartment, infested with rats. Feel the contrast there? Your readers will too. (Which reminds me about the important role of contrast in literature, which I will write about soon)
Now that we covered the importance of scenery, let’s ask ourselves the following questions:
All of these are the basis for your character’s behavior. With this you can determine two more elements – physical and mental characteristics.
Mental elements (traits)
These depend on the type of fictional character you decided to build. Once you selected the type of your fictional character, it’s time to do a mental check on the following: What is your character’s purpose? If your character is the protagonist, his/her purpose might be to save the world. Or maybe fall in love with the antagonist and change them for the better.
Next, what is their attitude towards life, other people, some important events in the story? What are his/her quirks? Is there a weird habit only that character will have? What about ticks? What is their ultimate goal? Again, depending on the type of your character, you can assign goals.
A note on goals – I like to observe the goal as a crossroad. On one side, there is the goal that I have as a writer to make that character do something which will most likely affect the plot. On another side, I feel and see what the character wants to do based on the situations I place him in.
Meaning you have two goals to fulfill. Sometimes it might happen that what you want won’t match the character’s traits and you will have to change either the plot or the traits if you want to follow your road, meaning it basically won’t be the same book as you planned it to be. Writing is complicated sometimes. Listen to your heart. Or your character’s heart. Also, remember that there are no bad decisions and you can always revise it all before publishing.
Back to the traits – what are his/her fears, weaknesses, flaws or secrets? What are the good sides of your character’s behavior? Do any of those stem from a mental illness? If so, explore the mental illnesses you need. What is their temper? Study the four primary temperaments – Choleric, Phlegmatic, Melancholy and Sanguine. Also, study the MBTI types.
Build all these together, combine it with your character type and you will have a full-on person. Moving on to the physical traits.
Physical elements (traits)
This what your readers should notice first. It can also be an important feature that, when mentioned, will expose your fictional character in a sea of others. Some can be changed, fixed, some fill stay with your character until the end and some he/she will lose while the plot is changing.
Ask yourself this – how will any physical trait match my character’s mental state? If he’s a runner, it wouldn’t have a point making him lazy and also if he likes walking, maybe him missing a leg will not work. On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly what you need to do to help him/her grow. Do the character’s physical traits come from any illness?
Describe clothing and his stance. His walk and his look. Most importantly, describe his facial expressions.
Remember that many physical features will depend on the surrounding, meaning that the scene will affect how your fictional character will look like.
Remember to always imagine yourself in a specific time and place as your character. That will help you overcome any obstacle you might meet. In case you get lost in this list of fictional character’s elements, you can always observe how other artists created their famous fictional characters, not limited to books only.
Master list of descriptions and more can be found here:
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