Awhile ago, I started a series of free lectures and workshops at *SCAPE, with the express intent of helping up and coming comic book and manga hopefuls prepare their first manuscript.
And after almost a full term, and after working with a number of people both on and offline, I’ve come to realize that one of the greatest hurdles many aspiring writers need to overcome is actually one of the earliest and most essential steps in the entire process – that of writing a compelling lead character.
In a sense, I was lucky.
Having played Dungeons & Dragons for almost two decades, I already had an existing framework I could use to mold story characters.
It was easy enough for me to assign a value to the character’s physical and mental attributes, to think of him as somebody with a class, with skills, feats and powers that closely resembled what I wanted to accomplish in the tale. And once I had these things in mind, all that was left to do was to flesh the character out – to put him in a costume, craft a legitimate background, and turn him loose. In fact, many of the characters that populated my worlds were created with this very approach.
And since my preferred genres were either traditional or urban fantasy, everything fell into place nicely.
Of course, I don’t expect people to pick up Dungeons & Dragons, just so they can use it as a writing tool. The character creation process, however, isn’t too dissimilar to what we, as writers, tend to be accustomed to.
Typically, you’ll begin with a concept.
When you sit down to write a lead character, there’s a good chance you already have an idea in mind. You should be able to visualize how this character looks like, maybe how he’s dressed, and how he acts.
Maybe you’re basing the character off somebody you know, or it’s an idealized version of yourself, or something really radical. You’ll want to pen these things down. Just a sentence or two will do, just to give yourself and your readers the gist of things.
You’ll want to follow this up with a longer description about the character. Touch on his costume and appearance, his mannerisms, his likes and dislikes. If you’re a dab hand at drawing, maybe include a character sketch of some sort. Make it a point to describe anything interesting about the character – a scar or tattoo, and how he acquired them, or maybe a favorite scarf, or piece of jewelry.
Finally, write a little background. Explore the character’s past. How did he turn out the way you envisioned him? What did he have for breakfast that morning? Anything at all that you think might make your character interesting to the audience.
If it’s a fantasy story, you could include a vignette about your character’s coming of age ceremony, a knight’s test, or a stint at the mages’ guild. If it’s something a little more modern, maybe include a short paragraph or two about his family life, or school life. If your character has special powers, don’t forget to talk about that as well.
And finally, jot down a list of character goals. What do you want your character to accomplish during the course of the story? How do you want him to grow, and what kind of challenges do you intend for him to overcome?
Once you’re done, give the character a good once over, and ask yourself if you’d be interested in reading more about someone like him.
If not, then well, it’s back to the drawing board.
Keep working at it, and eventually, you’ll have this entire process hard-wired into your system. And when you do, you’ll find that creating characters becomes something that’s almost second nature.
But in the meantime, keep writing! XD