There are many elements that make up the fabric of a story. Plot, setting, conflict, resolution and of course, characters. There are many who will argue which of the five is most important. This time, I will focus on characterization. The characters are what a story is about. Without good characters, people that grab a reader’s imagination and makes them want to know more about them, the rest of the story is meaningless. You can have the most amazing plot known to man, but if your characters are boring or annoying, it won’t matter.
Probably the most annoying character known to readers is called the Mary Sue (or for the men, Marty Stu). This is a character who is so utterly perfect in every way that a reader can’t even begin to relate to him/her. Many times, this is a wish-fulfillment character of the author. A projection of themselves as they wish to be and the hero of the story that everyone adores.
However, there is another annoying character and this is a villain who is so utterly cocky and stupid, it’s amazing they weren’t caught the first time they shoplifted as a teenager. Sometimes this kind of villain is made handsome, but usually comes out as vain and conceited, and only occasionally intelligent.
You can read entire books on characterization, which probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to do if you’re serious about learning this craft called writing. So when it comes to fanfiction (and using Voltron as an example), here are some things an author needs to look out for:
- Don’t make your villain a total idiot. He/she won’t be worth the time to catch by your hero otherwise. That or you’ll have a really short story that won’t be worth reading. In Voltron, Lotor isn’t stupid, in fact given the complexity of some of his plots, I’d say he’s close to a psychopathic genius. Treat the man with some respect and your story will be so much better for it.
- Don’t make your hero/heroine perfect. They need to have faults like everyone else. Most Voltron fanfiction writers tend to make Keith, the Commander of the Voltron Force perfect, but like any man, he isn’t. He makes mistakes, says the wrong things, does the wrong things. If all he did every day is work out, fly the lion, stop Lotor and win the princess, let’s talk about a boring story!
- Make your secondary characters worthwhile. Here’s another irritant of mine and one I’m sure I was guilty of when I first started writing. Let me show you what I mean as an example. Going back to Voltron, I’m a fan of pairing the commander, Keith and the princess, Allura. However, when writing a story, you need angst. So throw in a visiting prince to interest Allura or a girl who catches Keith’s eye. The tendency is to make these characters unlikable. Someone who is unworthy of the commander or princess. This can be a huge problem for writing an effective character and story. Keep it in the back of your mind as you write, it doesn’t hurt to introduce characters your readers will like just as much as your hero/heroine.
Since I’m far from an expert on the topic, here are a few sites to reference if you want more information:
A bit from Chuck Wendig: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/13/25-things-a-great-character-needs/