What can you do to make your characters stand out as individuals? Well, there are quite a bit of strategies you can try, but two of the most popular ones to try are to give you characters habits and certain mannerisms. Think outside the box with this. Get creative. I say this because, one of the things you want to avoid is making your characters like everyone else.
Example: Maybe you have a character who, when they are deep in thought, not only creases their brows together, but they also place a hand on their hip and scratch their cheek with the other at the same time. Then they lean on their other hip, place their opposite hand on that hip and scratch their other cheek with their other hand.
Yes, one would normally call this fidgeting, but it is very specific and the reader gets to see just how they fidget. The details of these movements causes this character to stand out. That’s what you want.
When you’re in a competition, you give it your all, everything you’ve got. You may be nervous at first before you start because you want to win. You don’t want to lose. Then your mom, dad, or friend says, “Just do your best. That’s all you can do. That’s all anyone can do.” In your mind, losing is losing, not winning. But…..in your villains mind, losing is winning.
What do I mean by this? Remember in the previous post (Villains Part VI) I said villains take pleasure in the protagonist’s pain. Well, yes. If burning everything down so your main character will lose everything but gives your villain pleasure in that main character’s loss, then the destruction of all is worth it to them. Go for the gusto with your villain’s actions. Have your villain throw ‘fuel on the fire’ (so to speak) as many times as it takes to cause destruction.
Ultimately, what is the reason behind the importance of making a great evil villain? Readers who continue turning the pages of your story all the way through to the end.
Watching someone open a gift, listening to your favorite music, a day at the beach, or even a walk in the woods; might give you pleasure. Now, normally, activities like the this would. But for villains in your stories, what gives them pleasure is none of the above. Oh No. They get pleasure from the pain of others. To your villain, other peoples’ pain is climactic, exhilarating, and releases the feel good chemicals inside their brain. They thrive on seeing others’ hurt and to the point where they have to continue in their hurtful behavior so they can continue to feel that pleasure.
Types of pain they inflict can be:
Worse yet (and most preferable) a combination of all of these
When it comes to dreaming up ways your villain could possibly hurt your main character, think outside the box. Be creative about what you want them to do. What makes your villain’s actions different than others you have read about in other books. Mold them. Make their pain causing actions unique.
How many times over the course of your life have you played a game with that one person who can’t help cheating to win the game? They are out there. In stories, they most definitely are there. They are called the antagonist, your villain. And they don’t play by the rules. In their minds the law doesn’t apply to them. If they can get what they want by breaking the law, so be it.
Their drive comes from interest in themselves. Their behavior is immoral/amoral. They lie, cheat, steal, deceive, and manipulate. If it puts money in their own pockets, they will take a bribe, blackmail, or do whatever it takes. Whatever the case, they always have ulterior motives.
When creating your villain, think outside the box. What are some creative ways your villain can break the rules to achieve their goal(s)?
Years ago, I had this “friend” who, when I first met her, appeared to be very nice. I’ll call her Gina for purposes of this story (It’s not her real name). She invited me to her house. We talked and shared information like pre-teen girls usually do. We had a lot of fun…..at first. Then the blowback came. One day she started telling all the other girls in our class all the information I shared with her. I’m not the only one she did this too. She would apologize and gain my trust again then turn around and manipulate the situation to her advantage. From that point forward, she began pitting all of us against one another. She was so good at trickery and conniving that she was never suspected of anything. This story could go on and on but for purposes of this blog, I’ll just leave this story here, LOL. This went on for two years (7th and 8th grade). During my 8th grade year I stopped hanging around her and that group of girls all together. She didn’t make it easy on my though.
I can honestly say that Gina is the perfect example of a story villain. They can not be trusted with anything whatsoever. This doesn’t mean they won’t try to gain one’s trust. They will because they are masters at knowing how to do that. Keep in mind, villains have very high social IQ’s and so they know how to manipulate people and situations. Ultimately, gaining the advantage and keeping it in any situation that serves themselves is what their goal is.
People are naturally trusting, so use this to your advantage when plotting your story. Here again, the villain will exploit the trust of others to obtain the advantage. And, YES, they are ALWAYS looking for ways to back stab anyone, this means adversaries and allies alike.
You’re running in a race. You’re ahead. But, in order to keep your lead you must keep going strong. If you let up even once, you risk losing or falling behind. Think of your villain as running in a type of race. It’s the kind of race where he/she is coming at your main character (MC) and not letting up (remember, this is their job). So much so, that your MC gets kicked back down before they get even half way back up. Your villain is on a roll. They can’t stop because, if they do, they run the risk of losing and the MC overtaking them.
Think of many different ways for your villain to trip up your MC. Think outside the box. I am currently reading a set of books by Jeff Carson. They’re David Wolf mysteries. OH MY GOSH!!! Talk about heart pounding suspense. The villain(s) never let up. Often times, while in the middle of one of these books, I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer, so I went to Amazon and read the summary of the next book. Doing this reassured me things would turn out ok in the current book I was reading. Then I would start the next book right after the one I finished and go through the cycle all over again.
What caused this mind blowing suspense? The villain(s). AND, in most cases there were more than one. All from multiple subplots and all out to get the MC. If you want a great example of a true villain(s), read those books. You can find them on Amazon. See the link below for book 1:
Never underestimate your villain. They are more clever than you think they are. Creating them goes beyond having them do bad nasty things to your main character. Oh no. They go much deeper than that. They must know your MC well in order to know how to act against them. Part of the villain getting to know your MC means they must get to their weaknesses, AND they are well gifted at getting to know this information, AND they will know exactly how to use it against them.
Your villain is the architect of the inciting incident and the stories plot twists that follow. Their job is to create tension. Think of them as the mudslingers. They throw everything they can think of to thwart your MC.
In December 2019 I wrote an article entitled Writing Stability. In that article I mentioned keeping a writing binder for the writing project you’re working on. It really doesn’t matter if you write by the seat of your pants or plan your novel out in advance, a binder to keep all of your information straight can only serve to help you.
Possible Sections to Include in Your Binder
Characters— This section will include everything about each of your characters. Possible types of information include: physical features, likes/dislikes, occupation, their role in the story, fears, character arcs, just to name a few. You could even create subsections for each character if you like.
Settings— Included here can be maps, setting descriptions, list of places and their significance, etc.
Story— I have a section in my binder with this label. What I use it for are ideas for my novel. Sometimes I’ll do a free write or I’ll write a quick plot summary for an idea.
Style Sheet— Here I keep a style sheet to keep the technical details consistent. For example, are you going to write your numbers out or not, make a list of words that MUST be capitalized consistently throughout, names and dates of events (It’s easy to lose track of this information when you’re writing). This is just a small list. What you decide you need to go in this section is up to you. When you’re editing later, this section will be your friend.
Doodling— This would be where you jot down any revision ideas or play around with language (If you’re writing fantasy, making up words can be fun).
You can always add to the above list. It depends on what kind of story you’re writing. I write urban fantasy, so I have additional sections such as, realms, fantasy creatures, photos, and questions. I love my binder because it frees up room in my head (kind of like a memory extension for my brain, LOL). If you don’t want to use a binder, a journal works well too. I’ve used both.
How do you choose a character flaw for your main character? That is up to you. I centered it around the story. Once you choose a flaw, how do you use it within the story? Is it just there throughout and that’s all and the character goes about their business within the story and never learns anything from circumstances or their actions, etc? If that’s the case, do we even have a story? No. Not really.
The protagonist in your story is supposed to learn along the way. Their character flaw inhibits this at first, but gradually he/she comes to realize they need to change in order for their mission/goal/quest to succeed. By the end of the book they will have overcome this flaw.
Let’s say you have a main character named Molly, who’s in high school. Her flaw is that she’s timid/shy. She doesn’t like confrontation or violence and prefers to avoid it at all costs. She doesn’t like to hurt the feelings of others, so she avoids situations where she might have to speak up and maybe make people angry. Therefore, she doesn’t speak up for herself either. So, how does she learn to overcome this and become stronger inside? How does she get others to stop picking on her? How does she speak up for the truth and defend her friend Johnny?
In the above example, you have to get Molly from point A to point B to point C to point D; point D being the end of the story where she finally speaks up and gets over her shyness. Getting from one point to the next will involve a series of events called trials and errors that will serve as learning opportunities for her grow, but she can’t do this without these trials and errors.
In a previous article I wrote about creating characters for your story. I mentioned in that article that your characters must be as unique as possible. I also illustrated two lists of characteristics a writer can use to create characters. I am going to list them again here as a reference for you. There is a good reason, I promise.
Style of dress
Description of home
Contents of wallet (this can say a lot about a person)
Strong character trait
Weak character trait
Best childhood memory
Worst childhood memory
One line summary of their personality
What triggers certain moods
What is their ambition
Sense of humor
What is his/her greatest hope
How does he/she see himself or herself
Philosophy of life
My goal in this article is to discuss HOW to use these traits to make your characters memorable and standout; to make them real. First, it’s one thing to describe in a story what a character’s traits are. It’s quite another to put this description to action. See examples below.
eg. 1. John had brown hair and blue eyes. eg. 2. John swept his fingers through his brown, sweaty hair. He had been running the better part of an hour. His breathing labored, so he bent forward, leaning his hands on his knees. He blinked his blue eyes as sweat seeped into them. No matter though. The runners high is what he strove for, and he accomplished that.
As you can understand, example 2 gives a clearer picture of John. It makes him stand out as a human because we “see” him, and we come to know that he enjoys the sport of running. We readers can identify with him and how he’s feeling. Here is another quick example. Say your main character has a habit of cracking his/her knuckles. Don’t just mention in the story that they do this. Use this habit in an action. Maybe he/she cracks their knuckles when their nervous, or maybe it helps them think more clearly. Hey, you never know.
Another way we can use character traits to make characters real is to make one of those traits part of the story itself. Take religious beliefs for example. Maybe your story is about two people who are at odds with each other because of their religious beliefs. In the end they make it work somehow. Or, your main character may have a unique sense of humor. Work this into the plot. Use it to distract the antagonist at some point. Again, you never know.
Lastly, I’d like to hit on character flaw. THIS is a trait that every protagonist (and antagonist) must have. It’s what moves your main character forward and helps with their inner growth. I’m referring to the character arch here. The protagonist could have a character flaw such as being severely stubborn, to the point that their stubborness gets in the way of them accomplishing their goals. Yes, your MC will learn how to overcome this by the end of the story (that topic is for another blog post). BUT, it also makes them more real, allowing he/she to stand out.
In closing, how well we depict our characters in our stories depends on how we use their information to their advantage. Rich, well “seen” story people will give your reader a reason to come back to the story and want more. So, let’s give them something they will never forget.