Like real people, characters should have flaws. After all, Nobody is perfect and your characters need to be Somebody. Hence, they need to have flaws and negative traits to help balance out their strengths. Having a negative trait in their character also helps provide conflict and gives you as the writer a place to build their arc.
Take a look at your character’s negative flaws and ask questions. Are they quick-tempered? Stingy? Vain? Perhaps they have low self-esteem or they care too much about what others think. Once you know where their shortcomings are, ask yourself how it impacts their ability to resolve the main conflict. Does an inability to listen to others cause a miscommunication? Does their timidity cause them to keep quiet when they have a perfect solution?
Their flaws should impact them in some way. Use those negative traits as an obstacle to getting what they want. This forces your character into needing to make a change and gives them a motivation for their character arc.
As the arc progresses, ramp up the problems caused by that negative trait. As the results become worse and worse, your character is forced to try a new tactic to get what they want. This reinforces the idea that their negative trait needs to change.
Not every character arc will end with a complete turn around. Change is hard to do, especially when it’s something like a bad habit or a negative trait. Rather than forcing your character through a full reimagining by the end of the story, let that negative trait remain—but tone it back. Show they can still be just as stubborn, stingy or selfish as they were, but that their instances of doing so are lessened by the impact of their past actions.
There’s a reason why your Main Character is the Main Character. This might be because they have a particular skill or an emotionally compelling reason to be involved in the main conflict.
As an exercise freewrite for ten minutes on why your Main Character is the main character of this story. Consider what about the conflict is important to them, and why. Also consider how they feel about the conflict. What skills do they have to help them?
As a bonus, do this with your supporting characters about why they aren’t the Main Characters.
Supporting characters fill in a variety of roles. They can be the love interest, the comedic relief, the sidekick and so many others. They don’t just support your protagonist however, they also provide aid for your antagonist.
Figuring out the reasons your supporting characters aid your heroes and villains helps flesh out their character as well as helping give strength to their relationships with each other.
As an exercise: Write a list of your supporting characters. Label or highlight the ones that could support your antagonist. Why could they? Write a scene explaining why they do or do not support him. Do the same thing for any characters that could support your protagonist.
Take a look at your list. Are there any characters that could play for both sides? Write a scene where they decide one way or the other who they’ll follow.
One of the unfortunate truths about people is that wherever there are groups of them, someone is talking about somebody to someone else. Depending on the people involved, this can be either a good thing, or a bad thing, but when you’re developing characters, it can also be a useful thing.
As an exercise: To help in the early stages of building a character, write down three rumors that might be going around about them. One good, one bad and one false. Consider things like where they come from, their trade, their current relationship status. Also keep in mind how prejudice plays a role in creating rumors: someone belonging to a minority group often faces false rumors that can be damaging to their reputation.
If you want to take this a step further, consider how your each of your characters reacts to hearing these rumors, both about them and about the others.
Sitting in direct opposition to the recovery of a loved one, the loss of a beloved is a situation that relies heavily on emotions and motivations from your characters. You can check out the full list of plot scenarios here.
- The witness sees the death of a kinsman.
Most often there is an executioner of some form to kill our kinsman, but in some cases death might occur from circumstances your witness predicted. The roles here are fairly straight-forward, even with the addition or exclusion of the executioner.
As straightforward as the roles are, this one still deals heavily with emotions, specifically those experienced during grief. Although the death itself may be a plot point, the reaction (or reactions) it causes are going to be heavily character motivated, regardless of whether it is a main plot or a minor one.