When people rave about a book, it’s usually about the characters.
The characters are the most important element of the story, so it’s important to get them right. The plot is important too, but it’s the characters who drive the plot. If you don’t have realistic three-dimensional characters, then the plot feels contrived and forced. Good characters help to create the illusion that the narrative is unfolding naturally. But how do you create these vibrant characters?
What I personally do is take elements from people I have encountered – either in the real world or other works of fiction – and mold them into an interesting character. If you’re already familiar with the type of people that you’re writing about, then it’s easier to breathe life into them. Authors are encouraged to write what they know, and I would definitely encourage you to do that with your characters. There are many different types of people in this world, both good and bad, so take inspiration from everyone that you meet. Your characters will ring true if they are drawn from your own personal experience, even if your story is set in a different world.
There are many things to consider when coming up with characters. What’s their name and what do they look like? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Their motivations and goals? While it’s good to consider all of these things, I try to let my characters form organically before I start putting them into boxes.
And before you begin to write, I recommend that you at least know the basics about your characters. Know enough information so that you can proceed with the story without having to stop every five minutes to ponder over what a character might say or do. As I like to map out my narrative in advance, I always have a basic framework of how the story is going to pan out, which means that I usually know my characters quite well before I get started. But regardless of whether you like to plan or simply go with the flow, you will definitely get to know your characters better as you go along.