Tips for creating awesome characters – Natalie K. Martin
By Natalie K. Martin
One of the things I was always the most clear on when I started out writing, was that I wanted to create characters that readers would never forget. Life isn’t boring, and books and their characters shouldn’t be either.♥
My favourite books have characters who have stayed with me long after finishing the story. Richard from The Beach, Framboise Dartigen from Five Quarters of the Orange and Daisy from #Forfeit – they all had something that made me sympathise with and root for them, regardless of what they did. It seems to me, that it’s often the characters who can make or break a writing career and not the plot.
Love You Better was the book where I really, really got to know my characters and it transformed my writing experience. After deciding whether your potential plot has legs, sketching out the characters would be the next thing I’d recommend. Here are three things that helped me to create rounded, believable and (I’m told) identifiable characters:
1. Don’t base your lead character too closely on yourself or family/friends
The old adage says that we should write what we know, and who else do we know better than ourselves, friends and family? Looking back on old stories I wrote, the characters were versions of myself, and the same goes for fellow writer friends of mine. Every one of them felt unnatural and just didn’t seem to work. It’s often unintentional, but when you write something so close to home, it can be hard to make them a fully rounded character with the flaws and complexities needed to hook a reader in. By putting some distance between yourself as the writer and the personality of the character, you can put them in any situation conceivable.
2. Pick your character names wisely
I’m not a parent, but I imagine it’s not much different to naming your newborn. After all, our books are our babies, right? I can spend hours searching for the right name for my characters, and rightly so, because it’s important. A reader might expect different things from a character named Beatrice than one named Stacey and while that’s not necessarily fair, it’s also true. Watch Freakonomics if you don’t believe me. Try to make the character name fit the character and remember, it can always be changed if you don’t like it later. While I was writing the first draft of Love You Better, I knew the Cassie wasn’t the right name for my lead character. It was only after writing more and understanding who she was, that I changed it to Effie.
3. Make them real
Okay, so we don’t base them on ourselves and we need to give them a good name. So, where do we start? By making them real in our minds, everything else will follow. A great tool I found was to fill in a character questionnaire. There are loads of them online, varying from a few basic questions to a pages of ever more complex and seemingly random ones. They all have the same aim: getting to know your characters. Answering questions about the character’s name, age, astrology sign, what they carry in their bag/pockets, what their earliest memory was or what they’d do with a million pounds helps you to make them real. Soon, I was asking myself what Effie, Smith or Oliver might do in situations I was facing in real life. It might not all go into your book but once you know and believe in your characters, chances are your readers will, too.
I read somewhere that writers live in an imaginary world for 90% of the time. Why not fill it with awesome characters?
When I was writing Love You Better and Together Apart, I grew to know my characters inside out and as a result, they are (I’m told) convincing, identifiable and reaction provoking. Whether the reaction is good or bad is irrelevant.
In January 2014, Sheffield-born Natalie Martin decided to leave her corporate job in London and experience the world – heading off on travels that would take her as far as Cambodia, North India, Goa, and Thailand, and would change her outlook on life for good. Whilst travelling in India, her debut novel Together Apart, became a No.1 bestseller on Amazon charts. Love You Better is her second novel and has just been released.