If you’re like most writers, it’s a priority to create awesome characters for your novels. Creating awesome characters means your readers will connect with the people you’re writing about, which ultimately means they will connect with your story.
With that in mind, here are fifteen tips to think about on your quest to create awesome characters!
1) Know the defining moments of their past
We all have moments that help to shape us. These moments include triumphs, failures, gains, and losses. Be sure to give your characters these types of moments. Did they lose someone close to them at a young age? How does that impact them? Did they experience some kind of victory early in their career? Has that moment motivated them to chase that feeling of success? Creating defining moments like this will help your reader to relate and connect to your characters because they too will have experienced similar moments in their own lives.
2) Develop their key and defining relationships
Our relationships also play a massive role in making us who we are. Knowing your characters’ parents, siblings, best friends, etc, and the relationship your character had with each of those people will inform who your character has become. If any key relationships are missing from your character’s life, that can be just as important and play just as much of a role in their development. This element also adds another layer for your readers to connect with. If you’d like some help with this, check out this post on creating key relationships!
3) Give them values
People have beliefs! Your characters should too. It’s important to know what your characters stand for and believe in because it will dictate the decisions they make throughout the story. It will also help you create some kind of consistency. For example, if you decide your main character strongly values honesty, they are likely to be honest (maybe painfully so) about what they think and feel. It also means that being lied to would be seen a deep betrayal and could result in a broken relationship. Whereas if you have a character who values kindness above all else, they may be more likely to tell a white lie to protect someone from an ugly truth.
4) Give then quirks
Some people are more quirky than others, but I think it’s fair to say that everyone has a few oddities in them. Giving your character a quirk is likely to both endear your character to your reader and make them more relatable. When you develop this aspect of your character, consider both behavioral and preference quirks. For example, maybe your character has a habit of drumming their fingers when they’re anxious. Or maybe they hate the texture of frozen yogurt. Even if the reader doesn’t have the same quirk, it’s likely that they’ll connect to their own oddity and appreciate your character’s uniqueness.
5) Give them motivation and direction
What gets your character out of bed in the morning? What do they want (both physically and in life)? Even if your character is a little lost, there has to be something that keeps them moving forward. We’re all working for something, even if there are points in our life when all we really want to figure out what we want and what we’re good at. That desire to find our way is still motivation for life. This will give your character a direction, which will inform your story and give your readers something to root for.
6) Give them vices and flaws
No body’s perfect. We all have ways of coping with stressful situations (like eating way too much mac and cheese). And we all have less than ideal qualities (like being stubborn). It can be hard for your readers to connect with a character who is too perfect because that’s simply unrealistic. No matter how heroic your hero is, they should still have flaws and vices to keep them realistic and accessible.
7) Add some of you
One of the easiest ways to bring your characters to life is to pull on your real life. Make it a point to give every character a little bit of yourself. If you love cheesy fries, give a character that love. If you hate riding a bike, give that to a character too. Adding a little bit of yourself into every character you create will help ground your characters. Not only that, it will help you connect better with your characters. In turn, this will make the characters more real and human to you, which will hopefully come through in your writing.
8) Give them obstacles to overcome
We all struggle from time to time. We all have to overcome our own obstacles. It’s hard to connect with a character who just sails through life. It also doesn’t give your readers much to root for or invest in. When your characters have an obstacle to navigate, it pulls your reader in and gives them a reason to care about your character.
9) Give them a personality test
One of the quickest ways to flesh out your character is to give them a personality test. This will likely bring up aspects of people that you hadn’t even thought to consider, which will add another layer of believability to your character. My favorite personality test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (here’s a whole post I did on using it for character creation), but you can use the Enneagram or any personality test you prefer.
10) Give them pain
Characters are more interesting when they suffer or when they have suffered in the past. This gives your readers something to empathize with. It also gives your characters something to grow from. Personally, when I find out a character is suffering or has suffered, I get so excited. It’s not because I enjoy their pain–it’s because I can’t wait to watch them fight to overcome the cause of their pain and come out on the other side stronger than they were when the got knocked down. Give your characters pain to make them stronger and more interesting.
11) Give them a human backstory
If you want your characters to be relatable, it’s important that your characters have a backstory that feels real and human. Even if you’re writing about aliens or superheroes, there should be elements of their backstory we can all relate to. Maybe they have (or have lost) parents. Maybe they struggled with others in school. Even if there are elements of their lives that are very different from ours, there should also be elements we can all connect with. This is especially true for your villains and bad guys. Having a human backstory won’t excuse your villain’s behavior, but it will help your readers understand how your character became who they are.
12) Give them lessons to learn and grow from
Lessons are part of growing up. Like we’ve already discussed, pain can force your character to grow, but that doesn’t have to be the only way they are shaped. Your character can experience gentler lessons just like people do in real life. Maybe they witness someone else’s pain and decide to help. Maybe they’re careless and accidentally send a mildly embarrassing email. Or maybe they’re struggling and receive good advice from a mentor. Giving your character opportunities to learn and grow will help them on their journey, which makes them more engaging for your reader.
13) Give them likes and dislikes
We all have things we like and dislike. These things might not be the main feature in your book, but they play into who your character is, what they work for, and what they try to avoid. Even if your readers don’t share the same likes or dislikes as your character, they’re more likely to connect with your character because your reader knows how it feels to like or dislike something. It also helps your reader learn about a character as they would a real person, which makes your character feel a little more like a real person.
14) Give them a hidden talent or passion
Nearly everyone has something they’re surprisingly good at or passionate about that doesn’t appear on the surface. Similar to likes and dislikes, giving your character these hidden aspects of their character gives your reader the opportunity to feel like they are getting to know your character better. It also gives you another layer to the character for you to explore as the writer.
15) Give them conflict
No one gets along with everyone and everything. Not only is it more realistic for your character to have conflict in their life, but it’s also more interesting. If your character doesn’t get along with a particular family member or co-worker, it may make your reader feel more protective of your character when they’re in that person’s presence or it may make them cheer for your character when they finally stand up for themselves. The universal nature of conflict gives your readers another chance to easily connect and empathize with your characters, which, once again, makes them more invested in your story.
I hope this helps you create awesome characters!
Now it’s your turn: What do you consider when you work to create awesome characters? What do you like to see in the characters you read? Tell me about it in the comments!
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