When writing novels or short stories, the main characters have to be someone that the reader can relate to. You have to make them human.
Our favorite heroes are the imperfect ones. Oftentimes, our favorite characters in the story is the villain.
As an aside, this is interesting to me. I find that when dealing with many things, politics, religion, etc., our culture is very quick to demonize or idolize and make people charactatures more than to look deeper to understand them as people. But in our literature, in order to enjoy the plot, we must feel that the hero is an underdog of sorts, has some issues or faults that make him or her relatable to us. For our villains, we want one we can understand, even if we don’t agree with their choices and actions.
As writers, we create these characters for people to love or hate. In order to make that connection with the reader, the writer must know the character intimately. I have to know the history, the motivations, the struggles, the doubts, the pride, the overconfidence, the talents, the weaknesses, the fears, of every character. I don’t tell the reader these things. When I do it well, at least, I show these things in hints of words said and actions taken or not taken. Even in an epic novel, we only see a sliver of a character’s life. Whether antagonist or protagonist or even a “secondary” character or just a quick dude in one scene, I have to know enough to act like that character immediately and communicate him or her at the outset. How do you create those kind of characters?
An easy way is to base them off of people you know. Of course, you do NOT put people you know in your stories … unless you hate them and want to hurt them, then its fine, because I don’t care how much you might feel it is a good thing, it ultimately won’t be. Too much can be misconstrued and people are sensitive. You start with someone you know and then you change enough about that person so that it can’t possibly be anyone you know. Give them an original crazy quirk or something that no one has or you read about online so that the person is familiar enough to you to enter into that role but different enough that the person reading it won’t think it’s them.
But even if you don’t care about them, just want to put them in your book so you can kill them in some sort of gruesome way (not that I advocate for this, by the way), that’s fine. At least change the names so you won’t get sued.
Also, make your characters more interesting. Give them things that people would believe but are abnormal, something to make them stand out. Stay away from cliche characters. Cliche characters can be fine for VERY minor characters, but not for anything as important as even secondary characters. Main characters should be as original as you can make them while still relatable to readers. You don’t have to be outrageous, just original, although outrageous can be fun, too.
We’ll talk about villains next …