The Basics of Story: Character

Write great characters with my top three ways to create relatable characters.

In preparation for NaNoWriMo coming up next month (!!!!!) I’m doing a new series this month! If you’ve never tried your hand at writing a 50,000-word novel in a month, or if you just want a refresher on the basics, then this series is for you. I’ll be writing about the Basics of Story.

There are several parts to any good story. As a reader, I’m sure you know what sort of characters, plots, settings, etc, make for your ideal story. In this series, I’m breaking story down so you can be well prepared and well equipped to bust out several thousand words in November.

Last week we touched on plot and how a well thought out plot can make or break your story. Today, we’ll be discussing characters. Next week, we’ll be discussing Setting.

Guys, I’m such a sucker for a good character…that’s why I was so obsessive about Harry Potter….J.K. knows how to write some BOMB characters.

A good character is either one that has you rooting for them or one that has you hating their guts with a fiery passion. It could also be argued that every book is an ensemble of characters and what they do in the course of a story. Those characters are what make the stories fly off the shelves.

Every book has a variety of characters. There’s your main character a.k.a. Your protagonist, there’s your villain or you antagonist, and there’s a whole cast of supporting characters. Each type of character has an important part to play in your story. Your main character is the vessel of the story. Your antagonist opposes your protagonist’s goal. The supporting characters will either help your main character on the way to greatness or try to make them fail.

Of course, this is a very basic description of characters. As you write them, they’ll begin to develop their own personalities, their own ways of speaking and interacting. You’ll learn more about them as you write. This is why so many writers say that they talk to their characters…we’re being told the story by the characters as we write. It’s these incredible characters that really make your story incredible.

So how do you write characters that make the stories fly off the shelves?

The answer is simple: relatable characters will win every.single.time.

What makes a character relatable?

I’m so glad you asked.

1 – Flaws

One of the best ways to create relatable characters, whether the character is your main character or the person you want your readers to hate with relish, is to make them flawed.

It’s a basic fact of humanity that, unfortunately, we’re not perfect. We make mistakes. We hurt people. We can be selfish or jealous or angry or proud. We all know our weaknesses, and we all know our families and friends’ weaknesses and we all know the weaknesses of some of our favorite characters.

So given this familiarity with weakness and imperfection, you should have NO PROBLEM coming up with flaws for your characters. And don’t just add physical imperfections. Create a character who struggles with depression or a character who clicks their pen when they think or chews with their mouth open or has anger issues. 

Adding flaws to your characters allows your readers to not only relate to them (there are multiple reasons I love Hermione, but if I’m honest, it’s because I was an insufferable know-it-all when I was in elementary school), but it allows your readers to believe in them as well.

Have you ever read a story with a perfect character? If you’ve ever read or written anything in the fan-fiction world, you’ve probably read more stories than you care to admit that have perfect or practically perfect characters. And perfect characters are frustrating for a number of reasons.

  1. They’re not relatable.
  2. They’re not believable.
  3. They’re too abnormal.

Abnormal characters can be ok sometimes, but without flaws, ticks, weird habits, or imperfect relationships, your characters simply won’t be believable. You want your readers to believe your character could be a real person and you also want your readers to believe in the goals of your characters.

Caveat: don’t make your characters so flawed that they’re easily disliked or unrelatable. Keep it realistic.

2 – Causes

We all have issues and problems that really get us fired up. We have injustices we want to right, we have problems we want to solve, and we have things we wish we could change, about the world, our circumstances, and ourselves. These are the things that drive what we read, who we’re friends with, and sometimes even our careers. Your characters are complete and full people as well and will have their own causes that they feel passionate about too.

Adding causes to your characters, whether they think everyone should have access to free healthcare or free lunch or if they want to become more patient, or they want a better job, not only creates three-dimensional characters, but it also adds dimension to your story’s world, (we’ll talk about setting next week!) and helps your reader see that your character is part of a bigger universe. This helps make your story real to your readers, especially if you’re creating a whole new universe, or writing about a place that’s unfamiliar to your readers. The unfamiliarity of place can be canceled out by your characters’ causes.

This is another way to create a character that your readers will love. We find our friends through shared causes and passions, and by creating characters with cares (gotta love alliteration right?), your readers will feel connected to them and want to know the rest of their story.

As well, these causes could, in fact, inform much of your plot, if you choose to focus on that part of your character. A character with a cause can become an inspiring and connecting person for your readers.

3 – Hobbies

Your characters’ passions are similar to their causes (and sometimes can be inspired by them!) but these can be a little less intense. Whereas your characters’ causes could be big changes in their universe or themselves, your characters’ passions are simpler: these are the things they like to do or collect.

For example, Belle from Beauty and the Beast loves to read and I know I speak for thousands of girls when I say that Belle’s library is my absolute dream. Her love of books and reading and using books as an escape from her own life resonated with people and made her a favorite princess of many. She’s one of my favorite characters for her love of books and her desire to adventure.

By giving your character a hobby or pastime or collection you create yet another bridge between your readers and your characters. Using Belle as an example again, the reason she resonates with so many people is because so many people love to read or love to adventure and see those traits in her.

So whether your character loves to read, travel, watch movies, listen or make music, dance, hike, play a sport, design websites, start businesses, whatever it is, those hobbies will endear your characters to your readers and keep them coming back, story after story.

Another great tip is to get to know your characters. There are loads of character worksheets online, so download one and get answering some questions! Not only will you get to know your characters, but you’ll also get your gears grinding to create awesome, relatable characters.

Cheers!



Alexis Truitt

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