When I first saw the cast for ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’, my jaw just about dropped to the ground in awe. The casting was absolute perfection. Harrid, Dumbledore, Ron, McGonagall…it’s like either J.K. Rowling wrote with those actors in mind or her characters were just that developed and dimensional, it was almost easy for the producers to cast accordingly and for the actors to slip into those rolls like a second skin (-yeah. I’m going with the second explanation too.)
J.K. Rowling built a solid foundation. But what makes for compelling characters in the big scheme of things? Here’s what I think:
First, compelling characters are ‘seen’. Physical description has to be tight, along with all the little quirks that make them unique- just like real people. ‘tall with dark hair and eyes’ isn’t gonna cut it. How do they walk? What does their voice sound like? Their accent? Physical ticks, habits or dress?
Secondly- Background. Part of what makes a character intriguing is how their background relates to the story. Do they have the ability to help? Or hurt? Can they be trusted? Do they have a reputation? Or are they discrete and mysterious?
Third- Personality traits and tension building. Each character has to have their own personality. If two characters resemble each other too closely- you can probably roll them into one. Different traits allow you to create tension- whether humorous, apprehensive, angry, sexual, or just plain fun. Opposites attract, or repulse; making harmony or chaos and when you have different personalities, there are a million ways to bounce them off one another- creating tension throughout the story.
Last, I think the most important thing to relate to all of the above is realism. Characters shouldn’t take illogical or unreasonable courses of action. Dialogue should reflect both personality and background and neither action nor dialogue should be used just to move the story along- but also to develop these characters as much as possible. They need to be real. To feel real. I think, for this, getting to know your characters is key.
One tip I’ve read about is to write one hundred facts about your character. For example: (I’m taking this from one of my wip’s)
1. Name is Aiden
2. Seventeen years old
3. Has pin straight blond hair that falls flat now matter how much he ruffles it, to his dismay.
4. Eats constantly- Loves junk food.
5. Is a terrible liar. As in, can’t lie to save his life.
6. Has hazel eyes
7. Is horny about 90% of the time
8. Gets emotional and heartfelt when he’s hammered
9. Hates the fact his parents never have any money
10. Hates the fact his dad expects him to be a fisherman like him and never have any money ever.
Getting the picture? Getting to know your characters inside and out will help you determine how they’d realistically react in a situation.