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Story is Character: How to Create Compelling Characters & Unique Story that Captivates Audiences.

Updated: Feb 28

It's the question on every writer's mind at the start of a new project.


How to create a character the audience wants to spend time with and deliver a cohesive, satisfying story experience.


It all starts with building a multidimensional protagonist.


The character Bella from Poor Things is brought back to life.
Bella from Poor Things is brought back to life to tell her unique story.

The Link Between Story and Character


Having a fleshed-out main character invites opportunities for an audience to relate and connect with them on a deeper level. It's also going to inform the story you tell.


You might start off with an idea, the outline of a plot. But as you work on your protagonist, you'll realize: this isn't your story anymore. It's theirs. Ideally, it's one very specific to that character and couldn't be told by anyone else.


A good way to test if you have a distinctive narrative & character? Ask yourself: could another character be inserted into this scenario without it changing the story?

If the character could easily be substituted, there’s a problem and a good chance that not enough work has been done on character development.


How to Create Compelling Characters: The Essentials


Beyond the basics of age, name, gender and nationality, who is this person you're trying to create?


There are lots of questions you can answer that will help you build a character. We've put together 20 of them in our Creating Compelling Characters Workbook (you can download it free at the link below). That will start you on the road to adding depth and nuance to your protagonist.


Crucial to creating successful characters is working out their backstory, their key relationships, their aims and their emotional needs. Having a clear idea of these elements will lay the foundation of what your story is going to be about.


It will ensure the narrative stems from character.


What is the driving force behind the protagonist's actions? What is the wound, trauma or character flaw that is holding them back or sending them in the wrong direction? If there's an inherent tension between the character's motivations and goals versus their weaknesses, that's going to be reflected in exterior moments of conflict. This will propel the narrative forwards and hold audience interest.



The Character Arc


To achieve their goal or desire is not going to be easy for our main character–otherwise, what's the point in watching? As creators of drama, we need to provide plenty of scope for conflict, so make a things as difficult as possible for them! Our protagonist should only be able to achieve their goals by going through some kind of internal struggle or dilemma, and/or by overcoming external obstacles.


The character needs to confront their weaknesses, their past trauma, and learn from the difficulties these flaws have caused them. They must become open to change both inside and out–emotional as well as the external changes the plot throws at them.

This internal growth and learning phase is the character arc.


Character Want Vs Need


Want                                          

•       The external goals or desires that a character wants to achieve.

•       The character believes this goal will solve their problems.

•       This is related to PLOT.


Need

•       What a character must learn in order to grow as a person.

•       The internal changes help them heal their trauma or address flaws.

•  This is the CHARACTER ARC.


The main character's weaknesses inherently trigger problems. There's an irony in who the character is and what they need to do or what they want to achieve.


It's worth noting that when you create your character's personality traits and weaknesses, those should in some way be a response to what they have experienced in their backstory.


The audience should not only recognise the problems that this particular character has, but really understand the underlying causes and what's at stake if those issues can't be resolved.


This is why the link between protagonist and story has to be solid.


And because the main character has been drawn in such realistic detail, and the story is so uniquely theirs, your audience becomes fully invested and committed to finding out what happens next.

Your character is a puzzle


If the protagonist is created well, with multiple facets and layers, the audience will have a strong desire to decipher the things this character says and does; the choices they make.


Sure, you need a hook to capture attention. But to consistently engage an audience, make them the detectives of your story. As you dole out snippets of information about the protagonist and their story, your readers or viewers are figuring things out beat by beat, scene by scene, episode by episode, trying to fill in the blanks.


As the writer, you better have the answers. You are the creator of this person. You need to know them inside out.


🛠️ Want a FREE copy of our Creating Complex Characters Workbook? Just provide an email address here and we'll send you the pdf. ➡️ The workbook comprises 20 questions to help you create complex, multilayered characters your audience will emotionally engage with.


👀 Want to delve deeper and learn by doing? Check out details of our next story course.



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