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How to Create Authentic and Powerful Fictional Characters
The secret to crafting ink and paper people that become legends.
Writing a legendary story is not easy. The premise has to be on point, the plot and subplots need to be seamlessly weaved in, and the cast of characters need to jump off the page as if the account is not of ink-and-paper creatures but of flesh-and-blood people and their real-life story.
In this article, we will discuss the last point — how to create legendary characters.
What You Will Learn in this Lesson
1. The reason why you need to make your characters human, even if they are not.
2. How to use universal archetypes to create a solid character framework.
3. Archetypes vs. stereotypes, and why you need to focus on the former and steer away from the latter.
4. The 16 male and female archetypes you can use to create a powerful protagonist.
5. How to use a character web to form an unforgettable cast of characters.
Ready to learn? Let’s dive in.
The Reason Why Alien Characters End Up Alienating the Reader
Human beings are incredibly complex.
Because in the midst of all our universal similarities, we are all still very different. We are unique.
That’s what you are aiming for, if you want to write a memorable story.
The truth is: Regardless of the type of character, whether they are human, humanoid, or bestial, your cast of characters need to be “human” if you want the readers to connect with them and be vested in their fictional lives.
That doesn’t mean you can’t imagine a race of beings who are utterly emotionless and base their actions on the greater good rather than the preciousness of individual lives. You will just need to draw from the life experience and thought process of human sociopaths to create such a race of beings. Anything less will just alienate your readers and reduce your characters to mere props in the story.
That’s why creating believable characters is so tough.
If you do not understand the nuances of being human, you will always fail to create a flesh-and-blood character whose emotions and choices make a story tick.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a psychologist to be good at this gig. You just need to use universal archetypes.
How Archetypes Can Help You Create a Legendary Cast of Characters
Archetypes are ancient symbols that are universally known to every human culture, regardless of geographic location on this planet.
They are believed to be the original mold from which all subsequent generations were born.
Characters archetypes are, therefore, the mold from which all characters emerge.
For example, the Seductress is an archetype. So is the Hero. We know them immediately because they have studded stories and human lives since time immemorial. We may even know people who embody them in our own lives.
Archetypes create an instant recognition in the minds of the readers so they can seamlessly escape into the story world. But that’s not the only reason why you should use them.
Archetypes come ready-made with traits, flaws, fears, motivations, looks, and even backstories. They are the perfect frame for building your fictional characters.
But how do you make such characters unique? How do you infuse originality to something that is universal and cliché?
You do it by understanding the difference between an archetype and a stereotype.
Archetypes vs. Stereotypes: Are They Really Different?
Yes, they are. Let me explain with an example.
You are a human being. You have the same organ systems as every other human being on this planet. The same heart, the same brain, and the same tissues. But does that means you are interchangeable with your neighbor next door?
Because you are a conscious soul. You see the world through a very unique lens — your lens. You experience it very differently from the person sitting next to you.
That’s why even if you are a jock, a teacher, or an artist, like thousands of people around the world, you are still uniquely different from every individual in your field.
That is the difference between a stereotype and an archetype.
A stereotype says human beings are all the same — meat bags. An archetype says — Joe is a hero. The keyword being: Joe. The unique human being whose personality matches the archetype of the Hero, but who is still uniquely Joe with his girlfriend problems and dead grandparents.
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