I previously talked about plot mistakes that many authors make when they’re first starting out, as detailed in this post. I also stated the following:
The majority of negative reviews stem from the reader having an issue with either the plotline, or the characters, so it’s important to really perfect these two things when writing your book.
And guys… it’s so true.
Characters and plot are like a writer’s bread and butter— you need both to be able to create a story. So how do you create fantastic characters that your readers will love, and talk about for years and years to come?
1) Make Your Characters Original
I know this sounds kind of cliché, but I’m saying it because so many writers still don’t do this!
Here’s a challenge for you: grab a stack of popular YA books and tell me what the main character looks like. Then tell me what their love interest looks like. Then tell me what their personality is like.
Now let me guess… the majority of your characters are a brunette or blonde. Their love interest is a tall, handsome stranger (and there’s a 70% chance that he’s a bad boy/troubled soul). Plus, all of your main characters either lack in personality, or are just strong and heroic.
Tell me it’s not true!
Where is our cultural diversity? Where are our gay romances? Where are our characters who aren’t the usual ‘plain-yet-pretty girl’?
It doesn’t take much to add a bit of uniqueness to your characters, and you shouldn’t just focus on their physical appearance. In fact, I wouldn’t even spend much time on physical appearance, because the reader is more likely to imagine the character the way they want to, and let’s face it— it does get a little weird once you start experimenting past the four typically normal hair colours.
Instead, give them some backstory, and weave in the roots of their hometown, their parents, how it shaped their life growing up. Give them culture and traditions, even if it’s just a family routine or unusual morals they might follow. Include different races of humans— experiment! Make things interesting.
Snag My Character Trait Checklist
A quick reference guide to help you craft well-rounded characters.
2) Give Your Characters Motivations & Goals
Everyone has something to work for, look forward to, or even just live for. Your characters are no different— so don’t make their entire world revolve around the plot and the obstacles that exist for the purpose of the story. Really spend some time shaping their character, and their motivations. Even go as far as to weave these motivations into your problem and plot, so that it creates more obstacles.
A good example is Twilight: The main character, Bella, moves to a new town. She doesn’t have any interests or passions until she meets Edward, and he becomes her reason for living.
This is terrible character development— Bella only existed for the romantic conflict in the story. There was nothing to make her an interesting or relatable character.
She did later decide she wanted to be a vampire, but again— that was because of Edward. Bella wouldn’t have wanted that if he hadn’t been a vampire, because the whole idea was that she would get to spend eternity with him. You’ve got to give the reader more than this.
Instead, trying planning out your character’s life, and what they’d be doing with it if the complication/problem of your story hadn’t come along, and then make these goals and motivations a secondary focus of your character’s life. They’re not going to give up on their previous goals just because something else came along— not if it really matters to them. This will improve your character development, and make your characters more believable and purposeful.
3) Give Your Characters Flaws
This is the big one— imperfection is perfection.
If you have perfect characters, you have boring characters. Nobody is perfect, and your characters shouldn’t be either. Readers will enjoy reading about characters who they can relate to, so make them human!
(I mean, unless your characters aren’t human, in which case disregard).
Now I know coming up with flaws can be really hard to do, so here are a few tips to help:
1) Assess your character’s backstory, and try to create events which have influenced them to think or act a certain way. E.g: Unreliable parents might create an untrusting character, or a spoilt character might act a little bratty and not realize when they are coming off that way.
2) Try and create an opposing problem or flaw to their personality. E.g: Prim and proper rich girl who has never worked a day in her life must now work as a kitchen hand scrubbing dishes. She would have no clue how to do it and would resent every second of it because it would cover her with dirt and grime and make her sweat. Her flaws are being spoilt & her obliviousness/lack of knowledge.
3) Check out this amazing list of bad habits put together by Maggie from The Wandering Quille, which you can use as a reference guide!
Give your characters originality and backstory that the reader can resonate with. Create goals and motivations for their life. And create flaws that have been shaped by their past and lifestyle. Doing these things will create lovable characters that people will want to talk about time and time again.
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Written by Pagan Malcolm
Pagan is a copywriter and coach helping fiction authors tell & sell their story.