Character Cores

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So you want to learn how to create characters for a book, a screenplay, or maybe a short story. More importantly, you want to create a character that will propel your story toward each plot point in fantastic fashion. The following post will teach you the basics of how to create a good character. One who has depth and is useful to your story.

Whether you’re developing the protagonist, antagonist, foil, etc… It’s great to start by creating your character’s core. Then, you can add as much or as little detail surrounding that core as you like. A character’s core is made of three things: a worldview, a collection of traits, and a voice.

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You can think of your character’s worldview as a defining belief they have about how the world works. For a superhero, it may be something like good will always defeat evil, or everyone can save the world. Perhaps a character in a comedy has a worldview that people shouldn’t be so shy about farting. The point is, a worldview doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering idea, it just has to be something they believe and something that defines them. This will act as a filter through which your character encodes their world within the context of the story. The superhero who thinks that everyone can save the world will put a lot of faith into the people around them; they’ll do everything they can to help people; they’ll probably be very encouraging. The last thing I’ll note is that these worldviews are flexible and can change. That’s how you can create a good character arc, come up with great character backstories, or make characters whose worldview’s don’t change, stand out in comparison to the ones that do.

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The next component of your character’s core is their collection of traits. One of the most important things to think of here is balance. Don’t think of any one character as good or bad. Every character you make, just like every person on this earth (sorry, personal worldview of mine), is as good as they are bad, and vice versa. Balance makes things easy. All you have to do is give your character some amount of good traits, and an equal amount of bad ones. You can go about this any way you like, but I recommend that you shoot for a broad scope of traits. Give your character a few big boisterous habits and also a few smalls little ticks. When you give them a good quality, pair it with a bad quality. Tie them together somehow. Let each trait spin off an opposite trait. If your superhero is very tidy, then you might also make them a slight germaphobe. If they have a strange facial tic that people don’t like, then make them affably shy. This is an idea that I got from a book called The Comic’s Toolbox and it’s a great read for those of you into the humor side of writing!

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The final part of your character’s core is their voice. I mean voice in a broader sense. Their overall tone, you might call it. Yes, this includes their physical description. But more so, it’s all the stylistic elements that combine together to tell the reader who you’re writing about, even without writing, “the superhero did x, or Clark Kent did y.”. This can be split into two realms: inside of dialogue, and outside of dialogue. Inside of dialogue, you have things like their accent or dialect, their filler words (which you want to use sparingly), and their cadence or pace. Outside of dialogue, you have their physical description, their demeanor, and their posture. The biggest trick I can give you for developing a character’s tone is to utilize a few character ticks. These are things like a smoker’s cough, fidgety hands, common phrases they’re known to say. Once you have a handful of these ticks to pull from, all you have to do is inject into bits of dialogue or action and the audience will know without a doubt which character they are reading about.

And that’s how you create a character core! Just give them a belief that defines them, a balanced set of good and bad traits, and a tone that helps your audience recognize them. Again, you can build as much or as little detail around it as you’d like. But beginning with a core like this can save you countless hours developing elements of a character that won’t matter in your story! If you like this method of character development, here’s a worksheet that you might also like!

Cheers!

Dayton O’Donnell


P.S. Be sure to check out The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus. It is meant for comedians, but as a novelist, I found it extremely helpful. Vorhaus has some very simplistic ways of breaking down larger story concepts. It’s a great book to add to your writing arsenal!