The aggregate of features and traits that form the
individual nature of some person or thing.
In this tutorial I will guide you through a way to 'flesh out' an Original Character (Also known as an OC). Before we begin, let's go through the basics.
A character is quite simply one who possesses qualities that define them from someone else. Every character is original and unique. A character can not only be human, but an animal, an alien, or anything that the imagination can come up with.
However, characters are often difficult to create, because to put it bluntly, you are in a sense creating a new being. This being needs the same kinds of traits and characteristics you possess, but can't be your own. They have to be original. In this case, many young writers and artists forget how hard it is to make a character and forget the complex details that enhance a character.
Fleshing out is a term used commonly in developing characters. It means to add additional details and to really, make fatter. You're making this character fatter by adding more details, and that's exactly what we want. A fat, plump and juicy, fleshed out character.
Now let us begin.
A character cannot be made without at least purpose or inspiration. These two are the keys to getting anywhere with your character. Generally when you are creating a character you already have your setting and story somewhat created. However, in times when you have created your character before your plot, you still need to make choices.
The first choice is whether they are a PROTAGONIST or an ANTAGONIST. A protagonist is generally 'the good guy', or in other words, the main character. An antagonist is generally the villain.
Note: A villain, can also be portrayed as the good guy. In some films and books, the law are the antagonists and the criminal is the main character. This can be very effective.
The purpose of a character will be your main drive in fleshing them out. It shapes the events they've gone through and how it has developed them into the character they are now, or the character they will be later.
Adding to this, you have to remember that the key is to be flexible. When you have decided on something, you have to know that you might change this later, in case something is not compatible with the character, or if they have aged, etcetera.
Most have been lead to believe that a name is one of the first steps to creating a character, but that is not the case. Personally, a name is one of the last things I think of. However, it is possible to give them a 'temporary name' for now so it is easier to refer to your character, but note that it can be any name and will be changed when you have established their character more.
A past is always needed for a character. In literature, we call them 'back stories'. Even if you are not a writer, I highly recommend writing one once you have established your character's past. A past shapes out a character and how they act at the present moment.
First, consider their family. Did the character have brothers or sisters? Did the character have both parents? Were these parents married; divorced; single mother; did the mother have an affair; the list goes on. When choosing this, I base it around my friends' lives. There are endless possibilities to how their family is and the easiest way is to be realistic.
Every choice you make here will affect the character. Was this character's family rich, poor, middle-class, or what? Did the family live in a house, a unit, on the streets, a van. Were they nomads (never live in one area; always move around)?
If the character had all brothers, and the character was a girl, then did the character act like a tom-boy, following her brothers' example? Or did she keep her fairly girlish traits?
Note: every character has a past. Who cares if they can't remember it, they simply must. Even if you begin a character from birth, they still have a past; you would be creating their past then if the character is a child.
Pasts are fascinating, and like the character, are unique. Keep in mind here we are still only on the family itself. This family could have particular traits as well. Are they religious? Do they eat at the table, or in front of the TV? Are the parents overweight/obese, or health freaks? Clean house or messy? Book-lovers or internet-addicts? Do they have jobs? If so, what and how does the job affect their family? Do they work at home or go out to work?
These are just some of the possibilities you can come up with, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
After you have established the character's basic family life, see if there were any major dramas that changed them. In their childhood lives, did they have a small story of their own such as being taken away from their family; orphaned; someone died in their family. Of course, it doesn't have to be a sob story.
To determine the character's nationality or heritage, you must know his/her parent's nationality. Are the parents European (classify what country), American (again, classify) or Asian? Are they immigrants, asylum seekers or runaways? Do they live in a developed country (Britain, USA, Australia, etcetera) or a developing country (countries suffering from poverty)? Everything will again, affect the character. In particular countries, there are also customs, cultures and beliefs that add onto that. For example, many middle-eastern countries are Muslim, so it is not easy to say that you have a character who lives in, let's say, Dubai but is Buddhist. It really doesn't work. Although there may be Buddhists in Dubai, it will sound very strange, and the audience who is hearing about your character will be turned off by this because they will assume that you have not done any research.
The character's origins will not only define their lifestyle, but also their appearance. Typically, those of Asian descent have slanted eyes. As a generalisation, a Chinese person has a rounder face than that of a Japanese person; although this is not always true, it can be used as a basis for their appearance, but I will explain appearances in more detail later.
If you are a perfectionist, then I would recommend researching genetics a little, so you can understand the dominant and recessive genes. Just wiki it, they're pretty easy to understand once you get the gist of it.
Lastly, the nationality will also describe the character's dialect, which brings me to the next topic.
This is one of the most important factors in a character as it represents how they interact with other people, can give a brief hint to their past and describes their social class. Dialect is how one speaks, defined by social class, regional speech patterns and other factors. It is not to be confused with accent, which is only used with how they speak, rather than the whole lot such as vocabulary, grammar, etcetera.
What accent does your character have? Once again, their parents and those who live around them will define their dialect. Those with a stilted voice will sound posh and those around them will then be lead to believe that they are from a high class. Someone from a poor background will not always pronounce their words clearly and cut off their consonants.
Stereotypes are again a good basis to use for dialects. Those who live in Birmingham (a city in England) have been stereotyped as having 'dumb-sounding voices', that is, they sound stupid. Although this is not true, you can use this accent for a character that comes off as dumb, as long as they grew up in this city, or their parents were from there.
The dialect also changes depending on the time period. If your character is set in the Renaissance period, then they will have an 'Old English accent'. This accent is generally stylised as posh with the archaic 'doth, art, thou' kind of deal, although this is false. Yes, the people in that time used words like art and thou, but they didn't sound that stilted. It was simply another accent that in this modern day, would sound strange because of the wording. The dialect could be very lazy and poorly spoken, but the words stayed the same.
However, choosing an archaic dialect like this is very difficult. In writing, it would be more suitable to modernise it by making it stilted, but natural. This is hard to do and takes lots of practice. This is like translating the dialogue.
For example, the book 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' had Germans as the characters, but the book was written in English. The characters spoke German but obviously the writer would not write in German at the dialogue, otherwise only those who could read German would understand. The same applies to the Old English accent.
This point of information relates to linguistics. During the last century accents have been mixed in with other accents because of immigration and multiculturalism. This changes how people speak again so in this modern day, a 'true accent' is very rare because people have mixed in with other cultures.
The last tip is slang. I highly recommend researching the typical slang if your character is from a different era, or a particular subculture that you are not familiar with. It sounds very wrong when they say slang but it's in the wrong era.
Just for kicks, the two swear words f*ck and c*nt began being used in the late 1700s. Although, in Shakespeare's time a similar word was used called 'fuckkit', I believe, which can be found in one of Shakespeare's plays. He probably made the word up, no doubt.
The personality is the most complex part to a character. Because of this, I am cutting it down so the personality isn't so long.
First, when establishing a personality you be very broad. Get a piece of blank paper and start writing down any words you want that you have in mind for a personality. For now, we keep it broad. Keep the words to a minimum, such as 'nice, kind, caring, etcetera.' Once you have done this, circle the words that you think fit the character best. This is the basis for your character's personality.
A personality is never one thing. Personalities generally have opposites in them: what you see on the outside, and what you see on the inside. These two sides are generally opposite, and what makes a character 'complex'. Before you can do this, we need to not only get their traits right, but their emotions, ticks and psychological traits.
Make a list of scenarios and write out how you think your character would react in said scenario. For example:
Meeting someone at the local pub
Sees a car accident
At a funeral
At a wedding
These are just a few examples. You can create as many as you want. Don't be worried if you can't write or not, because it's not about your ability to write, it's your attempt to understand your character more.
Let's look at the other aspects of the personality.
A character is filled with fat juicy emotions. Does this character let out their emotions or do they hide their true emotions away? It is always important to choose if your character is a liar or not a liar. In this, I mean, do they say what they really mean? In a very simple sense, if a character says he's fine, but he's/she's really not, then they are a liar. In this case, they keep their emotions bottled up inside.
A character can be emotionally fragile. Is there something that makes this character cry? Did they lose someone they once loved? How do they let out these emotions? Crying; talking; or do they not let them out at all? Because they don't let out these emotions, does it affect them in a good or bad way?
For another exercise, write down the main emotions:
There are many more than that, but write them all down, then write a page or so on how your character uses these emotions. Think why they would be doing this. Are they a happy person? Are they a sad person? Why? If you cannot answer why then there is no reason for them to be this. You must always answer the why question before you decide on a character's personality, or anything for that matter, relating to character development.
I made this term up. On the news, you may notice psychologists talking about their new research. For example: A child who grows up in an unstable environment is more likely to become a criminal.
This may seem very obvious, but honestly, listen to those psychologists. If you don't, you will never understand how people work. First, realise that they always say mostly or more likely. It is not always the case. So a psychological trait is something they do due to past experiences. These include stealing, drinking and smoking.
In psychology, an alcoholic is an alcoholic because he/she has had a terrible life and drinks to numb the pain. The alcoholic has no other choices. Alcoholics sometimes do drugs, which is another psychological trait.
You cannot give a character a psychological trait unless you have a reason for doing so. Borrow a book from the library on psychology or simply look it up on the net; you will find answers.
MORE ON PERSONALITY
So you have established their emotions, personality base and their psychological traits. A complex character is not simply made, but is the art of adding everything together to understand who they are perfectly and completely. I found that the best thing about characters is that they can never be perfect, which is what makes someone real.
A good tip is to grab traits from people you know. The audience loves seeing traits they can relate to, because it will make them feel more involved in the artwork/story. Connections with the audience are necessary. However, that does not mean you write/draw for the audience. Remember, you are doing this for you, not anyone else. If you are doing this for someone else then the creation is no longer yours.
Any ticks this character has? Nose-picker? Folds their napkins? Cracks their knuckles? Tiny little details are everything. In film especially, there is so much detail gone into the smallest of things. These tiny details, however, are generally ignored by the audience because they simply don't notice them, but subconsciously, they do. It makes the scene and character so juicy when these tiny little details are added. Without these details suddenly everything becomes bland and tasteless.
Ticks are quite easy to get, if you are out of ideas. Just think of your friends and family. I, for one, have a friend that has an annoying habit of smacking her lips when she eats. It's a habit and she can't help that. And myself, well, I bite my nails. Tiny little things, but they make us so incredibly individual.
Great, now that we have established who your character is and how they act, we can finally get onto their lives with other people. Typically, a character has relationships with: friends, enemies, family, best friends, acquaintances, people they dislike, and their lover/sexual partner.
I would assume by now that you have most of these characters already down pat. That would be nice, otherwise me explaining this area is a lack of time, since you have to go and create at least twenty other characters for this to happen.
Now, as mentioned before, the character must have a family, whether the family is dead or not. Does your character have a strained relationship with their family, or maybe only one member? Rivals with cousins or siblings? Does the family hate the character? These all need the big WHY question added on to it, so if you can't answer this question, you need to revise a few things.
Every character has an enemy. How boring would it be if you had a character but no one hated him? That is what makes a story tasteless, because that would mean there would be no conflict.
At the same time, the character needs a biffle. Or do they? No, they don't! They could be a social introvert, but again, ask yourself the big WHY question first before you make this decision.
Do the same for each other category, until you get to lover/sexual partner.
I find this one of the most important categories for a character. Does this character have a lover? Are they a player? Are they a virgin? Question upon question, these define your character greatly. Those that are still a virgin at the age of thirty are generally very sad and depressed, basically because they can't get any. If they are a virgin, then maybe they are asexual. Discuss the sexuality. And remember WHY! Basically, any character over the age of eighteen has a love life, at least. Although some people may get very awkward about it, there is nothing to be ashamed of. You must care for your character's well being! If you neglect this area then they probably will fap every night, and it will be your fault.
A character also has people that he/she hates, or other characters hate him/her. Although you as the creator don't want anyone to hate your character, the sad truth is that there will always be someone. So make this fictionally true! Add a few characters that hate your character to spice it up a little. It is very effective and the emotions that spill out of your character because of this are great, because it spices them up even more.
Although note, that does not mean to make everyone hate him/her. Limit it.
To help with relationships, make your character interact with them! Write many vignettes and short stories to help with this. Again, it doesn't matter if you aren't a good writer; it is so you understand how they work.
Is the character bitter to other characters, or only to some, and sweet to those they like? They will never act the same to each character. When you are writing these interactions, you will also get the feel of their dialect as well.
Role-playing is not always the best thing for character development. Although it is fun to play out your character with somebody else, I have found that RPs can make a character act Out Of Character (OOC). Adding to that, RPs can give your character too much unwanted information. Suddenly there are traits and emotions that the character never had but now suddenly do for no apparent reason, and suddenly they are banging everyone they see and are totally gorgeous. Well, it doesn't work like that.
RP with a fully developed character, not a developing one.
You have finally got their inner workings, and now we have to get their outside done! I believe that it is not a good idea to start a character off with an appearance. By the time you have established a personality, an appearance is quite easy to get, because the character itself will you help you shape their looks.
Most people think of appearances very narrowly: eye colour, hair, fat/skinny, skin colour. You need a lot more information than that for a developed character. Of course, it is nice to begin with these things, but you have to extrapolate.
Hair, firstly, is a lot more complex than you would think. For a man, does he have short hair, scruffy, shoulder-length, long
? The colour of his hair? Dyed? Fringe or no fringe? If your character is set in a different era, then note that fringes did not exist until the late 1800s, as I can remember. Long hair on men did not come in until the 60s, so making a man with long hair in the 1800s, for example, it will not work. Just don't do it.
Refer back to the looks of the character's parents. The easiest way is to use a few characteristics from each parent and mix it to make the appearance of your character.
What is more important to look at is the structure of their body. Broadly, decide whether they are tall, average or short. Then decide if they are stocky, skinny, obese, chubby, bony, muscly or average. The first instinct is to make a character skinny because it 'looks better'. Don't be afraid to give your character something that may make them look 'ugly!' In what we call 'real life', there are basically only 1% of people that are actually naturally beautiful/handsome. If you make a character gorgeous, then it will make them bland because they have no flaws.
Flaws are everything in a character. Flaws are great. They make the character so lovingly imperfect and imperfection is what you want.
Flaws can include: pasty skin; crooked/large nose; squinty eyes; scars; freckles; chubbiness; crooked/yellow teeth; big ears; greasy/dirty hair. These are a few examples that you can use. It sounds bad to call something like these 'flaws' but in terms of the perfect model, these are what they don't have.
A face can have different structures as well. Round-faced people generally look 'cute' or 'innocent', with puppy-fat and dimples. This is not always so, as it is only a generalisation, but round-faces are usually like this. For a cute kind of character, or a young teenager, a round-face would be more suitable.
Men with high cheek bones generally have a gaunt face with a hard jaw bone. It gives them the rugged but formal look; works better with tall pale men.
In some animated films, designers make the character's appearance relate to their personality or jobs. For example, in Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, the bellman who tells the news has a body shape of a bell. In most Disney movies, thugs are large, stocky and generally have some kind of feature that is grotesque.
These are a few ways to help develop the appearance for your character.
Also note, if your character has a scar, then know why and how it got there. Your character may also have piercings or tattoos, but make sure you know hey they got there.
Some things also affect your character's appearance. Lack of sleep will give them sunken eyes. Drinking, smoking and other bad habits can also affect the character's appearance: this is generally negative, that is, makes them look less 'perfect'.
You might have noticed that I have described appearances as a human. Anthropomorphic characters apply to this as well, and other creatures that are not human, such as demons and Gods.
For a last tip, note the age of your character. If they are a teenager, then they will have softer features and depending if they are a young teenager or an old teenager, you have to take in account puberty. Zits are one example of this, and don't cringe at this because it is completely natural. A young boy will also not be six foot, he will probably be five foot. Girls at a young age are very straight and have no curves in their body.
Older characters (35+) may have aging lines or greying hair. This depends on how healthy they are, though. Someone can still look young if they are forty, but if your character is the type that gets wasted every Saturday night or smokes, then they will age quicker.
Clothes represent characters for their tastes and preferences. In most cases, an author or artist will create one or two main outfits and the character will wear the same clothes in every drawing/story. This is perfectly fine because it is very difficult to plan an outfit for every day, but to help expand their wardrobe, begin with categories.
Just like in the game, The Sims (a virtual life-simulation game), you get to create a few different outfits, and these are:
Of course, I personally, don't think it is quite necessary to plan your character's underwear, the rest of these are quite appropriate. The first category, 'everyday', is the one you should begin on. Knowing a character's personality, it can be quite easy to plan.
Firstly, think of their age. A teenager obviously isn't going to wear a corset + fishnet stockings, unless she's an underage and illegal hooker (if she is, then remember your reason why she is!). The same applies to an elder, as they probably will wear what the young generation would call 'daggy'.
Establish whether your character is trendy or not. If you already know what their job is, you can probably create a design that reflects their work. For example, a lawyer or one who works in law may wear lots of suits.
Sub-cultures are a great basis for clothing as well. Indie, hipster, Goth, lad, etcetera. Of course, be careful if your character is too much like a sub-culture because some people can quite annoyed with this as they may hate the sub-culture, and of course, you'll need to choose why they are based on that sub-culture.
Also note the time period. When I was writing a back story for one of my own characters, the time period was the late 1700s. Through research, I found that the women's dress changed considerably in the 1750s compared to the 1780s. In one decade, the skirt of the dress was low waisted but had a huge frame, and in the other, the skirt was high wasted and made the wearer look very lean and thin. I also learnt just how uncomfortable those dresses were, with the amount of layers they had.
If your character is set in the Renaissance period, and he is male, well, even if men in tights looks awful, you are just going to have to deal with that because that was the style. Apparently men looked good in tights at one point with their junk jiggling about everywhere, just like David Bowie in The Labyrinth.
The other categories are much easier to choose. Formal wear? Basically some sort of suit for men and a dress for women. The last two categories, athletic and swimwear, are optional because the character of yours may not even be a swimmer/athlete.
Once you have got their main 'look', add accessories and other minor details. Jewellery? A type of shoe? And yes, probably the first instinct is to use Converse as the shoe type for a character, and it's okay. No one judges you. Everyone loves Converse. So do I, and I have learnt from my mistakes that not everyone in the world will wear black or green high tops.
Bi-polar; dyslexic; schizophrenic; anorexic; bulimic; depressed; the list goes on. There a number of mental disorders that a character may have, but this is risky business. Especially when a character has anorexia/bulimia, people will probably instantly hate your character because they suddenly believe they are a pathetic and whiny bitch.
This is because mental disorders have been warped by the common teenager, especially depression. A lot of teenagers believe they have a mental disorder when really they are just confused.
If you are to make a character with a mental disorder (know WHY though!) then research it thoroughly! Know all the signs and know exactly how the character would act with the disorder. How does it affect their everyday life? Do they try to hide it? Are they seeing a shrink?
First let's discuss 'powers' or 'abilities' as it is shorter. First, establish whether their power is good, bad, or neutral. Does it help them in any way? Do they have a type of power that could potentially kill hundreds of people? Does this power of theirs make the mad with power?
After you have got this, establish HOW they got their power/ability. Were they born with it? Were they infected? For example, bitten by a supernatural being (or a radioactive spider). Or did they have the power the whole time and they didn't know until they were taught how to control it?
The best tip for a character with powers is to not make them invincible. If you give them too many things, or something too strong, then it makes the character lack any kind of vulnerability and that could lead to something disastrous, such as a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu. We don't want that.
And of course, research! Have there been any recent scientific studies on the power you have chosen? I do know that as far as teleportation goes, they have transported a micron, but they're still working on that.
Of course, powers aren't real, but is always good to get a scientific view on these things.
In terms of the supernatural, well, I have only one thing to say:
GOD DAMMIT, RESEARCH IT FIRST BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO BRING IN YOUR STUPID FAERIES AND ALIENS AND MONSTERS AND DEMONS AND ANGELS. NO. JUST NO.
Understand first the ORIGINS of supernatural beings before you make your OC one! A vampire was originally a type of demon, and they were actually quite a disgusting-looking creature. Wiccan culture was very big on vampires.
'Glamour' came later, much later.
Demons and devils are a huge topic, and because of this I actually bought a book called 'The Complete Book of Devils and Demons', by Leonard R.N. Ashley (for those who are interested) that has really helped how I write a supernatural character. Your own knowledge is not enough to get by the whole topic, and ever since Stephanie Meyer brought in her faux-vampires, supernatural beings such as vampires, werewolves and demons are becoming harder to be appreciated because they are either instantly hated by those that detest the vampiric fad, or loved by those that do. In my opinion, stick to the true demons. And anyway, they are way more fun.
Religion also branches off from supernatural beings, as most religions basically created this. Heck, where do you think the Devil came from? Be very careful when specifically mentioning a type of religion though because some people may get offended because they will believe that their beliefs are right, not the other.
I find it safer to base supernatural creates off mythology, and you don't have to limit yourself! Greek, Norse, Chinese, Japanese, European, African, the list goes on, and the best part is, is that the topic is actually interesting to study.
Some people love bringing in angels, but I would suggest try not saying, 'the angels came from Heaven, where God lives', etcetera, as again, people may get offended.
In some fandoms, there is a type of universe that has been created. For example, in Doctor Who you have the 'Whoniverse', and in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you have the 'Whedonverse' (Joss Whedon wrote the series). The character lives in a universe, right? Establish whether they live on Earth; in a parallel universe; a kind of Underworld; or in a fantasy universe. This can be quite tricky as when creating a new universe, you have to consider not just the looks and geography, but the people, the social classes, the political system, the currency, their advances in science, their education, their countries, their fashion, everything! You have to, in a sense, create another world! This is quite a huge task and no one could possibly think of every little detail, but you have to try!
Remember, research, research, research. I cannot emphasise this enough!
In your universe, also take note of the era. I have mentioned the era in various topics that it does very much make an impact on your character. Again, research.
Oh yes, this makes everyone jump and down in excitement. That, or cringe away in disgust. But do not fear! I find that this topic is one of the most important of them all! Really, even writing a scene about a character having sex actually brings out more of their character because you understand how they work, and a few of their preferences. Are they into oral? Biter or a sucker? Got a secret fetish? Sweet spots? A kind of preference? How do they 'like' it? As awkward as it might sound, it helps the creator understand their character.
Obviously, if your character is very young, then please don't consider this. Ditto, if they are very old.
What turns your character on? What turns them off? This actually helps if you want to know what your character thinks of other people. They may see someone with straight blonde hair and be, 'URGH! I HATE PEOPLE WITH STRAIGHT BLONDE HAIR!'
Get a notebook and write these down. Also consider what they see in a girl/boy (depending on their sexuality).
Get a notebook and write up as many 'black or white' questions as possible. Here are a few to start you off:
These are helpful for character traits. It's great to know what your character prefers. Make a hundred of these. I'm sure you can find these on any OC Meme.
Also consider their favourites, such as:
Just a few things, but try and answer as many as you can because they give you a good insight of your character.
I am fascinated by characters because you have to strive to make a character imperfect, not perfect. It's what makes them so beautiful and wonderful. Without imperfection, a character would be bland. Yes, he/she may be loved, smart, good-looking, the perfect hero, but what does that do? Nothing. It makes them unbelievable and flawless, which is not a character. A character has flaws. Flaws are A+, okay?
If I haven't said this before, then I will say it again. Base your characters flaws on people you know. Don't make them the same, but tiny little details you notice in your friends or family will work in your character, and it makes them juicy and fleshed out which is what you want. A plump, juicy, fleshed out character.
Always ask yourself when making something for your character, 'would this happen in real-life?' If your character lives in a fantasy world though, just make it reasonable. Think of what the media in your universe would think!
Is your character more than just imperfect? Are they immoral? Dangerous, perhaps? Why are they? Consider all of these things and soon you will have the perfect, imperfect character that is juicy and fleshed out.
I hope I have helped with fleshing out a character! Here are a few tips for the end:
Have a notebook dedicated to your ideas on not only characters, but the plot line for your story or plot. I have a preference for A5 spiral notebooks.
Even though I have mentioned what the audience will think of your work, you must remember that you are doing this for you, and because you want to. This however does not mean you can do whatever you want.
Don't add so many things that the character suddenly becomes unrefined. Keep your character refined and don't add too many traits that they start crossing over.
Always remember the wonderful WHY question.
Write lots of vignettes and short stories to help flesh out your character! Try this, even if you are not a very good writer.
Try and draw a reference sheet that has the character's common expressions, and their everyday wear. Try this, even if you are not a very good drawer.
Your character is a living being. Care for them and don't let them drift away.
Your character probably will end up doing things you don't plan them to do when you have fleshed them out. They have their own individual thoughts and feelings!