When I think of my favorite novels, it’s the characters I remember most. Even if you have an intriguing plot, beautiful language, and witty dialogue, your novel will fall flat if the characters aren’t interesting.
In this post, I give you an overview of 10 things to consider when creating the characters for your story.
Here are my top 10 tips on how to create memorable, believable characters
- Give your characters a rich inner life with emotions, thoughts, beliefs, values, fears, and desires.
- Your main characters should have strong points, some positive traits that we can identify with and admire.
- The main characters should also have flaws. Like real people, characters shouldn’t be perfect. No one is all good (or all bad, for that matter). Give your characters weaknesses and fears. Flaws make characters more human and give them potential for growth.
- Make sure your main characters have a goal or desire. Give them something they want—a promotion, revenge, solving a murder, surviving a plane crash, etc. If the character doesn’t have a goal, you have no story. The goal should be specific and tangible. And it should be urgent—the character should want it badly, not just be mildly interested in reaching her goal.
- Make your main character active. Readers dislike characters who just passively react to whatever happens in the book. That doesn’t mean you can’t make your protagonist suffer. But make sure that the main character doesn’t always meekly duck their head. Giving them a goal helps to make the main character active.
- Give your main characters motivations we can understand. Even if readers can’t identify with their goals, we should be able to identify with the motivation—the reason why the character wants to reach that goal. For example, in my novel Hidden Truths, the main character, Luke, has been assigned female at birth but lives as a man. Strictly speaking, that makes Luke a liar, and readers could easily dislike that. But it’s just the opposite. Most of my test readers named Luke as their favorite character. It’s because they understand the motivation behind the lie—Luke wanting to protect their family and being afraid of losing their love.
- Most often, your main character should be a dynamic During the course of the novel, they should undergo a believable transformation. They learn and grow because of the events in the story and finally overcome their fear or flaw, at least enough to deserve a happy end.
- Maybe you could even give the character a contradiction—two conflicting needs, values, traits, or even contradicting identities. For example, in the TV Show Dexter, the protagonist is a husband, father, and crime-fighting bloodstain pattern analyst, but he’s also a serial killer. Indiana Jones is a courageous adventurer, but he’s afraid of snakes.
- Give your main character a past that shaped her. What kind of family did they grow up in? What past relationships influenced them? What are their biggest triumphs and regrets? That doesn’t mean that you have to show every bit of backstory in your novel. For the most part, it’s enough if readers can sense it.
- Give readers an idea of how the character looks. Make sure you are not just describing height, hair color, eye color, and the usual list of attributes. What’s more interesting than that is how their appearance influences the character. For example, if the character is unusually tall, do they feel self-conscious about it and always slump a little to appear shorter?
I hope this list gives you a good place to start when you are creating your characters.
I’ll blog more about character development next week, so stay tuned for more tips on characterization!