Last time, we talked about conflict, which is the most important aspect of storytelling. Without conflict, there is no story. But, without characters, there is no point to the conflict or story.
Proper characterization is vital to making your story work. We have all heard the phrase “flat” or “one-dimensional” characters. If the readers can’t connect to the characters they will lose interest in the story. So, how do you convey a character realistically, and in a way that is compelling?
The first thing is to address the three pillars of characterization. Just as it is with actual people, the first level of character surface attributes, and also what the character wants everyone to see. Descriptions play only a minor role, and is in fact unnecessary. Any description of your character that you do insist on using must play a role in the characterization, or in the deception of the reader’s perception of the character. More important than the description of your character is how they speak, and what they say. Along with these are their normal, everyday actions, prior to the first plot point.
Then, there is the second pillar of character; this is the backstory. These are the events that happened in your character’s past that have culminated in the man, woman, or beast who is the center of the tale. The second and third pillar of character work in tandem, the backstory being given in parts throughout the story, revealing your protagonist’s ambitions, fears, and desires. Then, when the plot points come into play they have choices to make, and those choices will define who your character truly is.
The third pillar of character is action under duress. In other words, how your character behaves, what actions she takes when the chips are down, when lives are on the line, and when it really matters. This is where true character is revealed. The loner, anti-hero who has spent most of the story trying to avoid helping others now comes to their aid when the monster has their heads in its jaws. It is the quiet one who has been afraid, but now steps in the monster’s way to protect the girl he loves. THAT is character, THAT is where the story comes alive and becomes real.
Just like your story, that relies on the three pillars of narrative fiction (conflict, character, and plot), these three pillars of character will give your characters a solid base upon which to breath life into your story.