We’ve ALL had it happen. You open a new anime only to find that the main character is EXACTLY like every single anime you’ve ever watched. Trope central! Gross. Yuck. Get it away from me. No one likes to open a book only to be disappointed by the most cliche character of all time… or worse. A Mary Sue. *vomits into a trash can* As authors, we all fear those boring, base characters. I cringe every time I see them anywhere. The trick is making sure your own characters aren’t cliche and that your unique, special and wonderful original characters shine as brightly as you do.
How do I create unique characters?
There are three surefire things that make a great main character: believability, relatability, and characterization. Without these three things, characters become mindless NPCs left to be puppeted by your will. By making sure your characters have realistic motives and personality traits, that they function like real human beings, and that they are unique as best as they can be, you can create a killer novel. When asked what’s most important to them about books, many people say that characters are one of their top picks. If a reader picks up a book only to find that Cliche2000 is the main character, they may put it down and never pick it back up. DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN.
What do I need to create a unique character?
Believability is the first ingredient to creating a real human being in a world of fiction. Regardless of the race or species of your main character, they need to have motives and traits that make sense to them. If your character is a rebel fighter, why? Avoid cliches like, “Her mom died.” or “Her planet was destroyed by an intergalactic federation.” or “She just really hates people being mean.” Filling out a sheet with 100 unique things about your character can help make their motives clearer. The same goes for villains. Nothing is better than a villain with a clear and believable backstory. No villain (except for the really terrible ones) do anything just for PURE EVILE. Were they bullied as a kid? Were they abused?
The next ingredient to a saucy unique character is relatability. Even if they are of a species that is not a human, ask yourself this question: WOULD ANY REGULAR HUMAN BEING DO THIS? Motives for characters often fall flat because they merely exist to be a plot point. Every character in your world is unique and has their own day to day lives, whether your readers see it or not. I saw an ad for a visual novel game the other day (not naming names) and a dialogue interaction went a little something like this:
Girl whose house just burned down in a fire: I can’t believe we survived!
Girl’s friend: Wow, we’re so lucky!
*an anime firefighter approaches, hot, shirtless and sweaty, obviously*
Firefighter: Hey, are you girls okay?
Girl’s friend: WOW! He is SO HOT. You should totally ask him out!
Girl whose house just burned down: Okay.
Okay? OKAY?!?!?! Your house just burned down and you lost all of your possessions and you and your friend almost DIED. You’re really going to drop all of that, forget it ever happened, JUST because the firefighter is hot? I don’t think so. If you can’t imagine that any human would react in a specific way, DON’T WRITE IT. Please, for the love of the gods, don’t write it. Talk the situation out with a friend. What would they say? How would they act? You can refer to your Character 100 to make this situation have more meat.
Lastly, your characters need to have uniqueness to them. You know what’s not unique? The “smart” girl who also happens to be incredibly hot and smart and can’t fail at anything. A villain who has multiple final forms, screams everything he says, and has no personality beyond PURE EVILE. Every character in your work should have unique likes, dislikes, and interests. For example, I hate tomatoes but will eat ketchup. I also love eating raw fish, which I know is something not everyone loves. By filling out a Character 100 and picking random, seemingly unimportant things for your character to love and hate, you make them into a real human (or otherwise). If you’ve seen it in an anime before, put your own spin on it. Don’t just copy and paste characters from popular media. Your fans will thank you.
When should I use unique characters?
Now, I’m of the belief that every character in a book needs to be unique. Even if the character is minor and only shows up once, they still need to be unique enough to seem like a real human. NPCs in old school games are terrifying because they have NO PERSONALITY. “Beautiful mornin’, ain’t it?” *runs by fifteen minutes later* “Beautiful mornin’, ain’t it?” In books, we have an infinite amount of words and time to make characters unique. If guards are coming after your character and one of them is especially violent, having a reason why (even if YOU know it and the readers don’t) can make your books exponentially better.
Obviously, you should spend more time on the characters that have more screen time. Do character 100s for main characters, but maybe still fill out 10 likes and dislikes for walk-ons. They’re only seen once, but knowing what they like or dislike can help you shape their interactions with the main characters. Don’t rip your hair out over a character that’s in the book for like a paragraph. That’ll just burn you out and keep you from doing what you love, and that’s writing.
What exercises can I do to make unique characters?
The exercise I always start character development with is a Character 100. I write down 100 things about my character that are not descriptive and flesh my character out. By 50, you should be dying unless you know your character REALLY well. This exercise is nice because it does not need any prompts, and is simple in its execution. If you are stuck and need help thinking up questions, check out this AMAZING guide that has 150 questions to get you started.
If these base questions are too boring for you, you can play truth or dare with your character… except all, they’re allowed to answer with is truth. Not a very fun game of truth or dare, is it? You can ask the same kind of invasive questions here that you would ask your friend as a party. How your characters answer defines who they are. If you’re looking for really good questions to ask here, check out the Proust Questionnaire. It was popularized by Marcel Proust, a novelist. Proust believed that answering these questions would reveal an individual’s true nature.
Throw your character into horrifying situations. Many people are very resistant to change, and normally something drastic has to happen in order for them to do so. What intense act will change your character fundamentally, and how do they react to it? This horrifying situation can be as simple as deciding which type of milk to buy or as complicated as a trolly track problem where people’s lives are on the line. Really get creative here! Remember, you are the god in your character’s world and you CAN choose to remove the ladder in the swimming pool.
Why should I make my characters unique?
Tropes are BORING. It should be a no-brainer to want to make your characters unique. They’re one of the backbones of your story, so having a character that’s already been written a million times won’t help your novel grow. Writing unique characters will create fandom. People will want to draw fanart of your work and write fanfiction about your characters, and what better honor in the writing community is there than that! You want your characters to make a lasting impression and wow your readers from the moment they step on the page. Invested readers = more book sales = bigger fanbase = success!
Do you have any writing resources that you all use frequently when writing? I would LOVE to know about them! Post them in the comments below. Who are some of your favorite characters in literature and which authors do you think are the kings and queens of character development?