So here I am, in my everyday disguise. Boring ol’ Carolina.
And here I am in full superhero splendor. Meet me, AKA Cool Girl.
No, seriously. That’s me!! It’s crazy how little it takes to make yourself into someone else entirely. Look at Miley Cyrus. I bet it blew your mind when you found out she was really Hannah Montana with a wig on. And Lady Gaga? NEWS ALERT: She’s not always a superhero. Sometimes, she wears non-shiny clothes.
Unfortunately, you can’t slap a cape on an ordinary fictional character and make them extraordinary. If you’re struggling to make your characters more appealing (especially in UF/SFF/Paranormal), it may be because you’re only making your character extraordinary on the surface. You have to dig deeper than that. Can’t just give your characters a cool ability/job/location and expect that to do the trick.
Let’s face it, it wasn’t the shiny boots and tights that made Superman so fabulous. It wasn’t even because he was so super. Not really. It's just his real life personality was so impossibly different from Superman’s personality. He lived out the fantasy that so many of us have—to be able to put on a cape and become way cooler than we are (I may look like a nerd, but you should see me in tights).
So what can you do to make your characters extraordinary?
1. First and foremost, your characters must have DEPTH. This means that your characters MUST HAVE:
A. Motivations. You don't act without motivation. (You might think you do, but you don't. All acts stem from some motivation, whether conscious or unconconscious, so it should be the same for your characters.) So even if your characters don't know why they act the way they do, YOU SHOULD.
B. Human qualities we all have. Things like dreams, hatreds, desires, goals, weaknesses, strengths, longings, secrets, embarrassments...without these qualities, we become robotic and boring. So do your characters.
C. Emotions. Layers of them. And their emotions should correspond to their personalities. Some people might cry at funerals, others laugh uncontrollably. Bring in the prostitute mourner in the red dress, and watch the tears dry up, and the sense of awe/embarrassment/shock/discomfort/anger/confusion take over.
D. Internal Conflict. If Peter Parker hadn't worried as much about what might have happened to Mary Jane Watson (movies, not comic books), he probably wouldn't have turned her away and limited himself only to spidey kisses hanging upside down. He was so torn--wanting revenge for his murdered uncle, feeling guilty it might've been his fault, his love for Mary Jane which has to go unfulfilled, and the many issues he has with the supervillains (just the issues with the Green Goblin and his son alone could drive a therapist mad).
2. Second, you must latch on to the unexpected…
A. …in the characters' personalities and subsequent actions. Nobody ever expected vampires to fall in love with humans—or to go to high school. Nobody expected Forrest Gump to go to college or to win International ping pong tournaments or to inspire a nation. And nobody expected Superman would be some shy, nerdy journalist. Audiences can’t wait to see what unexpected things such unexpected characters will get up to.
B. …in the characters’ motivations. In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, nobody expected that Tiny Cooper, best-friend-of-Will Grayson/gay-football-player’s greatest motivation in life would be to find love and let his light shine through the most fabulous high school musical the world has ever seen.
C. ...in the characters' human qualities. A secret doesn't have to be big to feel HUGE. Not if it's unexpected. Say a boy carries around a rock in his pocket with a face drawn on it, yarn for hair. It's name is Albert. Occasionally, he pets it when he gets nervous. At home, he sets it on his nightstand and talks to it. But it's his secret. He'll never tell anyone about it. No one would make fun of him, especially because his mom just died, but to him, it'd be humiliating. He's fifteen.
D. ...in the characters' emotions. Have you seen HANCOCK? The depressed superhero? Yeah. Unexpected.
E ...in the characters' internal conflict. What could be more unexpected than a vampire fretting over having sex with his human girlfriend because he might get too excited and drink her blood and kill her? Seriously. Nothing. Totally UNEXPECTED.
Caveat: Make the unexpected believable. Or make it so freaking awesome that your audience will gladly abandon reason and force themselves to buy it.
**********************************These are just some ways to make your characters worthy of kickass plots. I bet you have some tricks, too.