The first step in creating a strong main character is making them real. Most often, strong characters that stick in our minds are characters that the reader can relate to. Not generic or typical characters, but characters with dreams, hopes, failures, and problems, just like us. In order to do this, you need to give your character flaws. We are told nobody is perfect, so why would we want to read about a perfect character? As a reader, you can relate to a character with flaws, because, well, everyone has flaws. But, don’t just give your character a flaw and be done with them. Contrast that flaw with a strength that the character has. Have your character’s flaw be something that also adds to who they are. Would we like Indiana Jones as much if he was fearless to snakes or if he just gave up trying to overcome his fears?
Make ‘Em Real
Now that your character has some real strengths and flaws, they need to act, feel and speak in certain situations. The key here is to think back to memorable real life moments and people that you have experienced. When thinking back, good memories are great, but the bad ones are also important to establish an authentic character. Think about how you felt in certain situations, and infiltrate that into your character, keeping in mind the strengths and weaknesses you have already established for them. Like real people, different characters react to different events differently, so keep that in mind when focusing on your characters actions and feelings. Should your character be overly emotional about their father dying, or is it just a bump in the road? Does your character go above and beyond to help a friend, or do they brush it off and give some shoddy advice? Think about people you have met that you have admired and people that you have despised. What characteristics did they have that made you feel that way? Even something as specific as remembering a mannerism can authenticate your character and make them that much more realistic. Chances are, when you attribute those to your character, the reader will feel the same way that you did about them.
Love to Hate
There are characters we love, characters we love to hate, and characters we just hate. We could have all done without Daisy Buchanan’s selfishness and greed in the Great Gatsby, or Holden Caulfield’s whiny attitude in The Catcher in the Rye, or could we? Although we did not necessarily root for these characters, and sometimes rolled our eyes as we read about them, they are complex and keep us reading on. We constantly find ourselves asking why this character did this or why they said that, but overall they embody the flaws that we might be afraid of one day having ourselves. We may despise these characters, but they add an important element to the story that keeps us guessing and reading on. Not only do these characters add to the suspense and conflict, but they also contrast against the characters we love. Would we still love the Harry Potter series without the dreaded Lord Voldemort we learn to hate?
Finding the balance between admirable characters and those that make you cringe at the sight of their name is all about what makes a great read! Drawing characters no matter how loyal or evil from real life experiences is what helps develop them into strong memorable aspects of your book. Happy writing!