YW Workshop – Part 4

Part 1 — Stories and the Storyteller
Part 2 – Types of Stories
Part 3 — Elements of a Story
Part 4 — Characters
Part 5 — Dialogue
Part 6 – Poetry (Section A)


by Julie A. Serroul

You need only one character to tell a story. There doesn’t have to be a “Good Guy” against a “Bad Guy”. The part of the “Bad Guy” can be played by some other force that your character has to overcome. A terrible storm, the rigors of the wilderness, or even the character’s own fears can all be things that a character has to fight against or overcome. However, most stories involve a cast of characters, often the “Good Guy or Good Guys,” also known as the Protagonist or Protagonists, and the “Bad Guy or Bad Guys,” also known as the Antagonist or Antagonists.

How many characters do you need? As few as possible, but enough to tell the story. This makes things far less confusing for your readers. You should decide how many characters you think are needed to tell your story and try to keep to that number. If you seem to have too many characters, or you feel you can tell the story with fewer, the extra ones don’t have to be completely trashed. If you enjoy certain personality quirks or interesting facts about a character who isn’t really necessary, try melding a couple of the characters together until you reach your target number of characters.

For instance, if you love the wise-cracking, funny kid who makes the other characters laugh, but you also love the muscle-bound, athletic kid who uses his brawn before his brain, and can’t decide which one to cut… Don’t cut either, meld them together instead. Create a wise-cracking, muscle-bound kid who is smart, but impulsive. You may like your new character even more than the original two. The main point to remember is that if a character doesn’t serve a purpose in your story, you may not need him or her. But ultimately, you’ll have to decide.

Another thing to consider when creating your characters is who your audience is going to be. In Children’s or Youth Fiction, your audience’s age will determine your character’s age. Often readers connect more readily with characters that have a lot in common with them. But if you don’t have a set audience in mind, then don’t worry about it. Just write your character and worry about finding the right target audience later.

Now, think about your favorite fictional character – why did you like them so much? Did they have a lot in common with you? Same age, gender, or hobbies? Or did you like them because they had certain characteristics or traits you admired? Were they courageous, intelligent, witty, charming, attractive, athletic, tenacious, inventive, resourceful, etc.? Any one of these traits, or a combination, are admirable to most people.

Perhaps, like me, you enjoy characters who actually have weaknesses. Maybe they were over-imaginative, clumsy, less than physically perfect, fearful, shy, hot-tempered, impoverished, lonely, sad, etc. Many times, these weaknesses make your character more human, more believable, in a word – real. Think of Anne Shirley from the stories of Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. She was courageous, intelligent, tenacious, inventive and resourceful. But she was also over-imaginative, clumsy, less than physically perfect, hot-tempered and impoverished. And she is one of the most loved fictional characters of all time.

So…go ahead and make the hero of your story, brave, strong, handsome and gentle with animals. But don’t forget to make him clumsy, shy, and very short with a slight limp, or a scar. We’ll love him as much for his weaknesses as we will for his strengths. Because being less than perfect makes him have more in common with us, the less-than-perfect real people.

Character Sketch/Description:

It is very important to know the main characters of your story–good and bad. A Character Sketch is an outline of basic information for you to think about and fill in for each of the characters you’re developing. The information can be as detailed or as brief as you would like it to be. If you create a detailed character sketch of your character, you certainly don’t need to include all of that information in your story; in fact you shouldn’t. Including huge amounts of background information about a character can slow the pace of your story, and make it a less than a smooth read for your readers.

However, if you have the information about your character firmly in your head, you will be able to write about them as if they are someone you know personally. How detailed your character sketch is will determine how well you know them. A little info and they’re just a passing acquaintance, a ton of info and you know them like your best friend. And it will show in the story that you took the time to know your character. Your reader will feel like they know the character well too. You can slip bits of information from your character sketch into the story here and there, but don’t overdo it.

Let’s do a character sketch. It can be a character you liked in a story, or one you can make up now. Work on it for at least fifteen minutes. (Click here to find a ready made Character Sketch Sheet to print off and follow. You don’t need to fill out every part–just enough to make the character come alive for you.)

Go on to Part 5

Comments (3)

Character Sketch:
Name: Marge (nick-named Twighlight)
Gender: Female
Description: Teen working at Nasa (16yr). Crush on a guy named Jasone and best friends with Brett(Duskdawn). Lived in Missouri and is a major country girl. Loves her Mom, her dad is ‘dead’ from a secret Nasa mission disaster to pluto. She has hazel eyes, love sea food and asian food. Obsessed with chocolate.
She’s me.

I hear this stuff a lot. But has anyone ever thought of letting your characters run the story? It is so much fun and interesting and even you as an author doesn’t even know where it is going. I wrote a (Non-publishe) book about a girl and there are at the very least 3 places where even I had no clue what-so-ever that what happened was going to happen. Granted, some will not be able to do that, but I strongly recommend it if you can. you may be surprised what a good read your story/book/etc. will be by doing so.
: )

Hi Katrina,

I agree that not having a solid story outline is an exciting way to write your story. This is always a very individual choice that should boil down to “whatever keeps you writing”. Some people outline in great details, others treat an outline as a very general guideline and others write by the seat of their pants. Knowing your characters, however, is a little different. It is again a personal writing choice, but, for me, the more intimately I know my characters, the easier it is for me to let them take control of the story. Again, the most important thing is that you are writing!

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