There are two basic types of character: the ordinary person and the special person.
The special person is really good at their job, has skills most people don’t, or maybe even possesses powers beyond those of regular folk.
The ordinary person is like you or me.
Once you decide which type your main character is, the important thing is to get the reader to see the character as someone worth reading about.
Both types have certain drawbacks which, while not a problem, need to be addressed.
The ordinary character often starts off his story with not much going on. It’s necessary to establish the kind of life he leads, but this can easily become boring.
There’s no reason why everyday life has to be a chore to read about, but just portraying a character’s existence accurately isn’t going to be enough to hold the reader’s attention.
The risk with the specialist character is that they will deal with their problems too easily. The plot can be so well suited to their particular set of skills that it ends up feeling contrived.
The guy who was a hero in the army beats up ten guys, builds a gun out of spare parts and makes an impossible shot to save the day. Luckily, those were the three things he was really good at.
In both cases, you need to show the character as more than one dimensional. And to do so as early as possible. You can do this for both types in a very similar manner.
The ordinary character still has to deal with mundane issues before things get crazy, and how he deals with them will reflect his personality, even if that personality wants to run away and hide.
The special character can’t use his special skills in all situations. If a meter maid insists on giving him a ticket he can’t just karate chop her in the neck.
We all have to deal with unglamorous problems that have nothing to do with saving the world or finding love, but rather than rushing through them to get to the main plot, those are the moments you can use to your advantage.
If you make those moments socially awkward and difficult to navigate, how your character responds will establish the kind of person he is very quickly.
If the character is in a rush and is told to wait, you can show them waiting and getting frustrated, but that doesn’t reveal anything. If you show how they get around a minor obstacle in an unexpected way it will show the kind of person they are, and it will also make the scene more interesting.
The key is not to allow them to just do as they’re told. Give them a reason why they can’t wait and then see what they do.
A character who is forced to cut in at the head of a line when normally they would never do that will reveal a side of themselves in a dramatic way without the need for guns and car chases. If you can come up with a good enough reason for why they can’t back out, the rest will take care of itself.
And often how the character handles the situation will surprise even the writer.
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