Hello to everybody out there. And when I say everybody I mean those of you that are reading this. This, as you may have noticed, is my mini-guide to characters, for the use of those who need it. It will explain to you everything I know – which is basically nothing. And as you will soon see, that is most of the point. This guide will be split into several short sections, each one simple enough for even my readers to understand. Pointedly, if I'm writing it then it won't be complex. Please note this is designed to apply to heroes/protagonists only.
This is not an easy topic. If you don't write enough people say you aren't descriptive enough but if you write too much apparently you have a 'sue. The only real tip I can give you is write what you're comfortable writing and what you think is important. I have bios on all my characters but rarely use them, as I find things like hair and eye colour rarely crop up. But some people like to write these things, and some like to read them, too. Do whatever feels right.
The dreaded 'sue
Ah, Mary-sues. Needless to say, I really don't get what the big deal is. A 'sue isn't necessarily bad, and a non-sue isn't necessarily good. You just need to make sure the reader cares about the character. I find most writers try so hard to avoid creating a Mary-sue and wind up ruining the character because they are trying too hard. They wind up creating an anti-sue, which I will tell you about below.
The should be dreaded anti-sue
This is the one thing I have any real advice for. DON'T! Just don't. The problem with anti-sues is that the reader ends up hating them. And if the reader doesn't like the characters, they won't like the book. It truly is that simple. Do not under any circumstances write an anti-sue.
This is a very delicate manor. Some people will criticise you immensely for this. But then, a dumb blonde is bad, and a smart one would be accused of being a Mary-sue, so where does that leave you? The evil upper-classes is cliché, but if they were nice you would be in the same boat as with the smart blonde. So what is there to do besides not putting blondes and snobs in your story? Simple, you make the character as fits. If the blonde is supposed to be dumb, then dumb they shall be. And the same if you want a smart blonde. Whatever belongs in your story should have a place there.
Whatever fits your character. Really.
These get all writers criticised, but why? There is nothing wrong with a super-hero as long as you have a super-villain to match, and there is a chance they could lose. Just remember the 'kryptonite' rule. Give them at least one weakness. Wolverine is screwed around magnets, Batman is relatively helpless without his suit, and even spider-man needs to worry about giant birds. Or anything else that thinks he looks tasty. Fan-girls are scary, you know.
And then the villain. They don't need to be unstoppable, but they do need to be a fair fight. Either result has to be possible, even though we all know what the outcome is likely to be. People like to know just how that outcome comes to be. It can be anything from super-freak like venom, an old ally, like magneto, or even just an escaped psycho, as long as the hero has something to do.
Making the reader care
There are so many ways to do this. The best way is to show them how much the character cares. Yeah, yeah, the world's gonna end, we've seen it enough times before, why is this time special? Because the rebellious teenager didn't tell their parents they're sorry? The geeky maths-nerd didn't tell his lab partner how much she really means to him? The creepy emo kid wants to prove his awesomeness and save it? It can be for the biggest or smallest of reasons, but the character has to care. And then we have to like them enough to not want to see them fall flat on their face, but I'm getting to that.
Making them likable
Ask yourself this: do you like them? What is it about them that you like? Dislike? Will other people feel the same way about them as you? Too many writers seem to think a character they hate is one other people will like. I'm sorry to say, it doesn't work that way. If you like your character, then it is at least likable to one person. And, all the same, there will be at least one person who doesn't like them. I don't particularly like Holly from the Artemis Fowl books, shoot me. It's no big deal if one person says they're pants, start worrying when it's all of them. Just try to make them believable and write what comes to you.
Responding to criticism
Respond however you see fit. Even if that's to not respond at all. You're the writer, it's your story, do what you want with it. By all means, take advice, but don't do everything a reviewer tells you to, they aren't god you know.
But now we get to the main point. My real advice: there is none! Just write, there is no set guidelines for a character and there shouldn't be. Any 'do's' can go wrong and 'don'ts' do actually work when you use them right. You are the author, always remember that. Also, remember my awesomeness, it would make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But failing that, go write some good characters. Since I've so kindly not told you how to.