Many people commend me on writing complex, three-dimensional, believable characters. It’s something I do work on, diligently. I think most writers want to place their characters into predetermined categories (i.e. this is the hero/heroine, this is the villain, this is the side-kick, and this is the extra girl/guy for a love triangle to give me some drama). I try my best to avoid all of these stereotypes.
When creating a character, the first thing I ask myself is: “What do they want?” or “What is their purpose?” For the most part, every character has a driving force, something pushing them towards something. Writing about someone who doesn’t know what they want and who constantly flip-flops back and forth on decisions (or the alternative, makes no decisions), really isn’t that interesting to read about.
Once you have the purpose of the character then you can build around that. I keep this rule in my head: No one is any one thing. Which is why typecasting your characters as the “hero” or “villain” can get you into a lot of trouble. Look at your real life as an example. We all have people we don’t like but who can surprise us with very thoughtful and sentimental gestures. And we all know someone who we thought was the nicest person in the world yet they say something completely rude or insensitive and it makes us pause. I try to write characters as people are. That’s what makes them relatable. So when you’re crafting your characters, whether they’re heroes or villains, side-kicks or lovers, remember that in real life people make mistakes. They regret their actions. They have triumphs and failures. They are hypocritical (do what I say not what I do?). Sometimes they’re fiercely loyal to the relationship. Other times they stab you in the back.
The old cliché is that art imitates life. So write characters as people are. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but never all one or the other.