What is the anatomy of a solid character?
Generally, that depends on the character, but every solid character must have a few basic things in common.
First and foremost, a solid character needs mass.
For example, ghosts, while they can certainly be well-rounded, entertaining, scary, or sympathetic, just aren’t solid. They walk through walls, fall through floors, disappear in sunlight. It makes them very hard to grab on to, you know, very hard to pin down for anything necessary. As a matter of fact, I don’t think you could put a pin in a ghost because there’s nothing solid to stick!
Actual mass will depend on a variety of factors, but mainly the size of your character. Large characters take up more physical space than, say, small characters. Be sure you remain consistent when writing kids, too. Smaller = less space, but if you’re writing about a juvenile bigfoot, for instance, its mass will be more than a juvenile human of the same age. Cuz, you know, it’s a BIGFOOT.
So, after adding the proper mass, you’ve got a pretty solid character on your hands. But solid doesn’t just mean owning a physical space, having some sort of cosmic address where a body is parked. No, it’s also about the correct bits & pieces being in place. So that means if you’re writing about an alien with three eyes and a tail, you need to make sure those are present and accounted for, always. Tails swish, they flick, people trip over them. While some people trip over nothing, or their own feet, it’s much more likely they’re going to trip over something solid. Everyone knows this.
This same rules apply for writing humans. The women and men characters need to have the proper parts. If needed, switch these parts around, of course, but they need still be present. And switched around means women can have male parts and vice versa, just tucked away where they should be, not, say, sprouting from their foreheads like a unicorn’s horn or reminiscent of a porcupine joke I once heard.
So we’ve covered mass and each character having the proper pieces for what they are. We’ve also seen that you’re allowed to shuffle them around when needed. Think of each character like a Potato Head doll: holes in the arms, legs, head, face, eyes. Put things where they need to go to fit your story.
Seriously, folks, it’s that easy to have proper anatomy on a solid character.
My serious answer to this question, which certainly includes all of the above, is that the anatomy of a solid character is quite simple.
It boils down to duality.
I’ve never known a single person who is all good or all bad (and I use those terms relatively) and that’s what you have to bring to the table when you write characters. You have to recognize that while this character is certainly the baddie, there’s a reason for that. Just like every super hero has an origin story, so does every villain. The villain may very well like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain, which aren’t very villainous things at all. But if the villain is nothing but mean and vile, then some of the mass is lost, some of those solid bits you want to stick a pin in.
Conversely, your good guy may shoot a kid in the face and then go home and hug his own.
If you know the goals, motivations, and loves of both your antagonist and protagonist, you essentially have a story tree with two thick, healthy, branches. You can use the leaves from either branch to tell a damn good story. Now, apply the goals, motivations, and loves to your secondary players, give them the same treatment. Now your story tree grows more branches that produce more and more leaves until you have a natural, beautiful canopy through which to stream the sunlight of your story.
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