Inspiration has bitten you hard! You have a grand idea for a novel…maybe it involves a guy, let’s name him Charlie McAllister. Charlie finds himself waking up in the middle of a desert with no idea where he is, or how he got there, but he’s quick to notice his entire left arm and shoulder are throbbing in pain from a freshly inked tattoo—elaborately applied and looking like a fierce dragon. Some of the scales of the dragon have names written in an ancient language on them.
Yikes! Who is this guy? What has he done? Is he the good guy or the bad guy?
If, at this point, you feel a bit stuck, simply run a background check on Charlie to evaluate his potential to be the protagonist or antagonist in your novel. Yes, I do realize a background check is usually used by employers before hiring someone to discover facts about his/her employment references, character, gaps in employment history, identity and address verification, credit history, and probably one of the most important areas of a background check…the criminal history report. Also of interest might be a person’s driving record, litigation record, citizenship, and military history.
Character building can be a tricky thing. If handled as though Charlie is a real person, then the pieces will fall together quite easily. Pretend you are about to hire Charlie for a position in your company, called Prime, which writes computer code…secret code, for the US military. No way would he be hired on the spot.
So, Charlie got a background check that is revealing. Hum…maybe he knows it will be and doesn’t care for some reason because this is all part of his plan. Would you hire him?
Here’s some of the information CEO of Prime, Ethan Cromwell, has to ponder about…
*The STATE BY STATE criminal background check turned up a criminal history in four states: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Offenses included Driving Under the Influence-DUI’s 3X, Aggravated Assault 2X, Driving With Suspended or Revoked License, and Disorderly Conduct.
*Educational background checked out with a Graduate Degree in Computer Science earned from Michigan State University in 1990. Military service in Marines from 1993-2005 ended with a dishonorable discharge, no other details provided.
As you can see Charlie’s life has been anything but ordinary, especially since the background check also brought to light he was buried in debt for over six years with four credit cards, a car loan, and a hefty mortgage. Then within a four month period, that debt was paid in full. Where did he get the money to pay off everything?
Looking at the details about Charlie make shaping him into a memorable character much easier now because motivation for some of his actions can be instigated from his background. See! He is shaping up.
- He’s a loner, and does not play well with others.
- Charlie is not an honest person.
- Frequently, he was found where he should not have been at work…sneaky.
- He is a dangerous man with a criminal past.
- Is it possible he has a grudge against Prime somehow connected to his military service? Does he want to steal code to sell it?
- According to this report, he was “Kind of a scary guy.”
Continue adding details to Charlie’s background check until he becomes so real you’ll feel like you could pick him out in a crowd. Use neighbor references, other social references, psychological workups found on him, anything to give this guy depth. It may be possible he has been undercover for years and is actually the good guy!
How do you make your characters interesting? Please feel free to share!
Good luck building strong characters, and thanks for visiting the Noracast.