Quick Doesn’t Mean Boring – Because even extras can be interesting!
Every character you make who has a name ought to be memorable in their own way, to one degree or another, because if you can make intriguing minor characters, it adds tremendous depth and atmosphere to your stories.
Quentin Tarantino is a master of making great characters; even Spider from the movie Pulp Fiction was memorable, as was just about every other minor character. It’s like that in all of QT’s flicks. It should be like that in your book, too.
But making such characters takes forever, right? Wrong!
You can make a great character, adding depth and color to your book without much effort, by following these 5 easy steps:
- Pick a movie character to represent him/her
- Select a tangible goal–what does s/he want? From whom?
- Create 3 defining traits that others immediately notice
- Reveal their personal “Great Lie”
- Define the character’s conflicting Nature
We’ll go through each step briefly. At the end, you’ll have a great character that others will remember–and it’ll guide you in how to write their every action, everything they say and do.
Step 1: Moviecast the character
Pick a character from a movie. Any character, any movie. Genre doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you’ll have an immediate mental image of the character so you can easily describe their clothes, features, mannerisms–everything about them stands out in your mind without having to work hard at remembering whether this was the character with the limp, or the one with a goatee that doesn’t match their hair color.
Step 2: Give the character a goal
Not some obscure, meaning-of-life type of goal. No, this should be something tangible and achievable. Short-term, not long-term. Also choose who the character wants it from.
Maybe your character wants to go home right now. They’re being held by Fred, your MC, so obviously they want it from Fred.
Or perhaps they’re after the Golden McGuffin of Free Coffee. They believe Fred knows who has it (whether that’s correct or not), and so they will try to get that knowledge from Fred. Even if it means kidnapping Fred’s daughter? Maybe, maybe not. But you know what they want, now. In the next steps we determine the traits that will define to what lengths the character will go to achieve their goal.
Step 3: What are his/her 3 defining traits?
This is my favorite step. Here, we figure out what things others will immediately notice about the character after spending even a few minutes with them–or maybe even at a glance.
Example: Doc Holiday (played by Val Kilmer)
- Slightly effeminate
- Born Killer
Your 3 noticeable traits for this supporting character might be different from what I picked up on, and that’s fine.
Step 4: The Big Lie
This is something the character believes at their very core, even if they try to present something else to the world. In fact, they’re likely to try to hide it from the world.
Doc Holliday’s “Big Lie” might be that he believes he isn’t worthy of love. Or that Wyatt Earp is infallible.
Perhaps the character’s Big Lie is that minorities are worse than white people. Or that LGBT people are only that way because they were abused as children. Perhaps they think your MC killed their father and so deserves to die in revenge.
It doesn’t have to be something you, the author, thinks is a lie. Just something that’s a lie in the context of your book.
By having this Big Lie, you’re setting your character up for an epiphany later, if they’re a main character, but the biggest reason to give every named character one of these is because by its very nature, it gives the character depth and complexity, and it guides you in how to write them.
Step 5: Everyone has a conflicting nature
This is the most difficult step, but I think it’s important. It’s how we tag the character’s personality, figure out to what lengths they’ll go to achieve their aims, and give the character consistency. Believability. Verisimilitude. They needn’t be antonyms, or even related, but they do need to be connected to that character’s life.
Basically, the idea is that everyone has a core, inner conflict. This is not visible to anyone else, usually. The character struggles with this conflict throughout their entire Hero’s Journey.
Until the end, of course, when they evolve as a person. Minor characters may very well never have that on-screen epiphany where this conflicting nature is revealed, but you need to know what it is, as an author.
What would Doc Holliday’s conflicting nature be? Perhaps “Ennui vs. Friendship.” He may hide his self-destructive urges under the guise of doing reckless things to help his friend, Wyatt…
Luke Skywalker’s early conflict might have been “Revenge vs. Cowardice.”
Every decision the character makes can be determined through the filter of their Conflict, Big Lie, and Goal–then described uniquely through their Traits and their Moviecast.
These 5 easy steps make it super easy to create characters who are consistent, believable, and memorable–and do it quickly!