When I came across the question of writing great characters, I didn’t immediately know the answer. But! I knew what I liked in a character from a reader’s perspective.You want to write a character that feels like a real person. That people talk about as if they were a real person. But this is one of those things that is easier said than done.
A great character is one that should be:
I could stop here and leave you to the guesswork of making this happen. Or, I could explain to you what this means and how to make it happen. So, that is what I am going to do today. I will break down each of the 5 aspects of writing great characters so that way you can apply this knowledge to each of your characters. You can also use this information to assess your characters that you have already created to see how you can make them even better!
What Makes A Character Likeable?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of it all, you need to be clear on one thing. Nobody says this and it drives me insane. Your main characters and side characters are equally important! They both add to your world, make it feel real, add conflict and resolution, and so much more.
Do not give your side characters less attention just because they are side characters. You want them to feel as real and as important as your main characters.
Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now. What makes a character likable? Well, a character is likeable if they appear human. That’s the fast answer, but there are a lot of factors that go into appearing human.
This is important to understand because having a likeable character is important for your story. If a reader doesn’t like your characters, they won’t finish the story. No matter how interesting it is! However, if you have likeable characters, you can get away with an okay-ish story (you should still try your best on writing an awesome story though).
Here are some features that humanize a character:
- Goal oriented
Compassion in a character can make them likeable because the reader witnesses them caring for other characters in the book. This feels human because it displays kindness and love. We often associate a lack of compassion for being nonhuman or evil, which would make your character less likeable.
The reason compassion can be so amazing is that you don’t have to display it through action. You can allow the reader to listen to that compassion through the character’s thoughts, or see it through their facial expressions or body movement.
Companionship is another important likeable feature because if someone else likes your character, the reader may too. Everyone has a friend, pet, child, or significant other. Any of these can work in your book because they all display different forms of companionship.
Perhaps your character is a loner, but they have a pet snail that they love to care for. Or perhaps your character is an extrovert and has many friends and acquaintances. No matter who your character is, they can still have at least one companion.
A goal-oriented person shows drive and motivation. A character with a dream is interesting. Humans are naturally curious, so a reader is going to become invested in your character’s dream. They will want to know what happens. They will care about that character and root for them.
It is also incredibly simple to integrate their dreams into your plot. You want to know how I know? Because having a goal is difficult and those difficulties can become major moments in your book.
Think about your goal. You want to write a book and get it published. There are so many roadblocks in your journey to making that a reality. But because this is your dream, you will hurtle yourself over those roadblocks and make your dream a reality.
I want you to get a piece of paper out or even a word document and draw out a table like so:
|Significant other||Friend||Family member||Pet|
I want you to pick one person you know from the past or present that fits the categories written above. Write their name and then below their name I want you to write a list of every single thing you liked about them.
Awesome, you’re finished. Look at what you wrote. Did you like your friend because they said weird things that made you laugh? Did you like your significant other because they made you food to comfort you when you were sad? You can use all of that to piece together who your characters in your book are.
What Makes A Character Relatable?
Stop using the word relatable. You are overcomplicating this matter and overwhelming yourself! Start using the word real. What makes a character relatable? Whoops, I mean real? Super easy, a character is real if a reader knows what they:
- Look like
- Sound like
- Behave like
- Think like
First, what does your character look and sound like? To answer this correctly, think about your character’s background.This will affect your character’s appearance and voice. You must understand your character’s background before you can understand what they look and sound like.
What does this have to do with relatability? Well, the more a person can visualize a character, the more real that character will feel.
To illustrate this, let’s say your book is set in Ireland. But you wrote a character that doesn’t really embody what people look and sound like in Ireland. Someone naïve to Irelands culture may look past it, but someone from Ireland won’t relate to your character at all.
Next, what does your character behave and think like? You have emotions. You have desires and morals that affect your behavior. How much money you have and where you live affects also affects your behavior and the way you think. The same goes for your character.
Who are they? What makes them them? Relatability comes down to how human they are, which is the general idea that hopefully I have portrayed to you. If your reader from Ireland can relate to your character from Ireland, then you have done a good job! They don’t have to be the exact same person. But having those little similarities will help your character feel real.
Answer these questions about your character:
- Where they are from. Is your character from Ireland, New Jersey, Chile, Australia?
- What is their ethnicity?
- What time period is your book set in?
- Does your character like to dress a certain way?
- What are their eating habits?
- Are they active?
- How do they walk?
- What values and morals do they find to be the most important?
- What physical and emotional/mental strengths do they have?
- What physical and emotional/mental weaknesses do they have?
- What is their social and economic status?
- What skills do they have? Wish they had? Trying to have? Lack?
The more you know your character, the easier it will be to write about them. You could even practice by answering these questions about yourself.
Pro tip: Hire an artist to sketch your character using these questions. Just give them the answers to these questions and ask them to draw out what this person looks like. Having a visual is immensely helpful when writing your book.
What Makes A Character Believable?
Personality and a backstory makes a character believable. For the love of all that is good and holy, please do not turn your character into a cliche. Get creative and truly understand them.
What happened in their past to make them who they are? As a writer, you should know your characters as well as you know yourself. You should know what external and internal conflicts they face, their vulnerabilities, what words they say often, what they like to do, how intelligent they are, and so much more.
Some of your characters will develop on their own as you write your book. But you should still know who they are at the core. I want you to stop treating your character like a figment of your imagination and start treating them like they are an actual human being.
Treat it the way actors do when they prepare for a role. Actors will deep dive into research so that they can embody who their character is. They learn to walk, talk, and think like them. And they do this by learning and embracing their character’s personality and backstory.
Tip 1: Conduct a character interview. Here are some questions that should help you out:
- What is your best memory from your childhood?
- What is your worst memory from your childhood?
- Do you ever wish you were raised differently?
- If you could invent anything, what would it be and why?
- Do you believe in second chances?
- What is your biggest pet peeve?
- Who are you the closest to, and why?
- What are your hobbies, and how did you get into them?
- Would you say you’re more of an extrovert or an introvert?
- If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
- What’s one thing that can instantly improve your day?
- What do you think happens after death?
- What makes you feel calm?
- What’s your most prized possession, and why?
- How much time do you spend with your family?
- How do you behave in an argument?
- What’s the first thing you look for in a partner and/or friend?
- How do you view the world?
- Would you rather someone be honest and hurt your feelings or lie to protect them?
- What regrets do you have?
- If you could have 3 wishes, what would they be?
- What’s the most unusual place you’ve fallen asleep?
- When was the last time you cried, and why?
- What’s the weirdest thing you have ever done?
- If you could change one thing about you instantly, what would it be?
- What’s your least favorite place in the world?
- What’s your most favorite place in the world?
- What comforts you when you are stressed?
- Who is the most important person to you?
- What bad habits do you have?
Tip 2: Take a personality test like The Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as if you were the character.
What Makes A Character Unique?
This is possibly the easiest part of writing great characters. Simply put, what makes them stand out? Let’s dive into this a little deeper.
Someone can be unique in many ways. It could be because of their abilities, how they talk or what they say, what they do, etc. A unique character is an interesting character. Something about them is considered not normal.
Your character could have had a weird upbringing, like being born into a cult or raised by an entire village.
They could have an obsession with something like dead languages, or carnival games.
They could be talented, such as playing the violin, or captivating an audience.
Your character could have a physical characteristic like a blemish or have perfect posture at all times.
They could think differently, such as visualizing their thoughts or being strictly logical.
As you can see, uniqueness comes in many forms. Think about your character’s personality and circumstances. What unique attribute can you give them?
Who are your type 5 favorite characters from movies and/or books? Write out their names. Below their names, I want you to write what makes them different from the “norm”. It can be one thing or a lot of things.
You can also do the same thing with people you know in your life if that is easier.
What Makes A Character Memorable?
We often talk about memorable characters. Think Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, or Mr. Darcy (isn’t he perfect?!). These types of characters are the ones we readers wish were real. For example, Mr. Darcy made such an impression on me that I set his gentlemanliness as the golden standard for any man I got into a relationship with.
Memorable characters have distinctive view points. For example, we know Mr. Darcy has high expectations because he says,
“Maybe it’s that I find it hard to forgive the follies and vices of others, or their offenses against me. My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.”.
This viewpoint is confirmed because of his relationship with Mr. Wickham, thus solidifying what we know about Mr. Darcy.
Lastly, a memorable character is one that embodies the previous four aspects that I have already covered. You aren’t soon to forget someone who is likeable, relatable, believable, and unique.
Answer these questions so you can pull out the different ways a person can be memorable.
Who is someone you remember from your past? What do you remember about them?
Has there ever been a stranger that left an impression on you? Why?
Other Common Writing Mistakes?
Your characters are important. This much you know. However, character development is only one piece of the rather gigantic puzzle that is writing a book. It is easy to make a mistake too. So, I helped you out as much as I can by addressing these mistakes. Here are 5 of the most common writing mistakes that I have noticed as a reader:
- Poorly written dialogue (Read More: Here Are 5 Helpful Tips For Writing Dialogue)
- Unlikable or unrelatable characters (covered in today’s post)
- Poor readability
- Plot holes (Read more: 5 ways to avoid plot holes in your novel)
- Using cliches or all too common words and phrases (Read more: What Are The Words To Avoid When Writing A Book?)
Let’s Talk About It!
Today I went over the 5 aspects of writing great characters. These aspects are essential. So, I not only told you what they were but how to take action so that way you can get started immediately. These 5 aspects are:
What aspect do you need to work on?
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Hi! I am a book blogger primarily. The aim of this blog is to help readers and writers alike. I also write the occasional travel related post. I am a nerd like you with a passion for neuroscience and learning. Hence, my love for books and the authors who write those books!