Primal characters live, breathe, eat and sleep like real human beings. Puppet characters act jerky like Frankenstein and speak in phony puppet-phrases. They don’t eat, sleep or take a shower because they are puppets. You can learn to create primal characters from the masters of modern fiction.
Jack Reacher is a wildly popular fictional character created by Lee Child–who we know more about than his creator. That is the way it should be. Reacher is 6-5, about 250 lbs., with blue eyes. An ex-military cop, he can beat-up the average street fighter with ease. But there’s more. He has a strong sense of justice. Anyone willing to hurt women or children will be made to regret it. He’s a modern Paladin/Superman. But there’s more. Reacher wanders America alone, without a suitcase or even a change of clothes. He carries a folding toothbrush, a little cash, that’s all. He sleeps in cheap motels and presses his clothes under the mattress at night. When his shirt and pants get too dirty, he throws them away and buys a new shirt and pants, that’s all. He’s an existential minimalist. He eats double or triple orders of food and likes his coffee black, and lots of it. He’s a weapons expert and not only that, every part of his body is a weapon. He heads into danger rather than away from it–and wherever he goes bad guys are busy committing dark, dirty crimes against decent people who can’t defend themselves. Reacher kills at least a half-dozen bad guys per story and it doesn’t bother him any more than killing bugs. Why? Because bad guys made a bad choice: hurting innocent people to make money. They deserve to die. So Jack Reacher is a vivid Character with a capital C. But there’s more.
Lee Child has created a primal archetype: Every man wishes he was a hero saving a beautiful woman and rescuing an innocent child. Every man wishes he was a hero to his wife and to his child. Every man wishes he could heroically stop the bad, evil guys. Since ordinary men lead much more quiet lives (of quiet desperation–or even quietly heroic) we hunger to read of Jack Reacher’s raw and bloody heroics. It lives in our blood if not in our actions. So he is a primal character. (Just as Ayla is a primal archetype character for women readers in Clan of the Cave Bears, the modern, beautiful, intelligent woman who is forced to live among stupid Neanderthal cavemen–and overcome them and thrive).
So what do you do, my dear writing friend. If you would create wildly popular fiction, create primal characters (with lots of defining characteristics to make them real). Once you create this primal character then your job as a writer is to craft interesting situations-problems–perplexing, excruciating, hopeless, mind-boggling problems. Then sit back and watch. Your primal character will thrash away finding a solution. Take notes. Expand notes into prose. Now you’re writing. Now your creating interesting fiction. Can you tell Lee Child is having fun?