How do you make original characters? How do you design them?
That’s a really good question. I like questions about character design a lot, because that is one of the things people don’t talk about very often. They talk about character development, but they don’t talk about character design. So the distinction here, as I’m going to talk to everybody is character development is how the character grows and changes over the course of the story; it’s how the story affects the character, whereas character design is how you decide how to create the character in the first place, so there’s a lot of aspects to that and I could talk about all afternoon. The bottom line is there is a trick I picked up from an author called Jim Butcher, who wrote Dresden Files; he did a ___ journal years ago where he talked about some of his writing tips, and one of his writing tips were tags and traits. What these are, are things about the character that they come back to throughout the story in order to make the characters memorable and vivid on the readers mind, both visually and in terms of their personality.
So, tags are words that are used in association with the character, and traits are aspects about the character. The best example of this is Harry Potter; J.K. Rowling is really good at this. So, with Hermione brown frizzy hair is one of her tags. Every time you hear about someone with brown frizzy hair it’s Hermione. And one of her traits is bookishness, this teacher’s pet sort of thing. So, her trait is, so they don’t say ‘teacher’s pet’ every time Hermione is introduced, but she is always the teacher’s pet. She always the one with her hand in the air, and she is always the one answering the questions. So that is one of her tags and one of her traits.
So, in terms of Ron, the Weasley family is the only ones in the book ever described with red hair and freckles. So, everyone in the books who is on the Weasley family, red hair and freckles. So, whenever you see somebody in the books with red hair and freckles, it’s the Weasley family. Whereas you know they are not the only ones in the world with red hair and freckles, but they’re the ones, that’s how you remember and recognize the Weasley family. And one of their traits is they are poor, but they are happy and they get by. I don’t know what to call that trait, but their poverty, or their lack of resources, especially in contrast to Harry, is how they stand out. So, they are making the best with what they have, because their finances are stretched and they have a bunch of kids, where as Harry is alone and has a ton of money. So, they are using hand-me-down wands, and patching up their stuff so these are all traits, …, these are very memorable traits and tags to attach to your characters.
So, what you are trying to do when you are creating a character, is come up with tags and traits that make them stand out from the other characters in your story, and that whenever you reference them, the reader remembers, “Oh right, that’s that guy.” So, every time they talk about Ron’s red… every time you see red hair moving through the forest, you go “Oh, right, I remember what Ron looks like.” And you don’t just remember the red hair, you remember your whole mental picture of Ron. So, every time you refer back to one of these unique traits or tags, you remember the whole character. It’s a really great tip. So, I recommend looking that up. Tags and traits.