If I were to ask you who your favorite character is from a book or a TV show, chances are that you would be able to name one (or a few) in only a short moment. As a writer, one of the greatest challenges that we have is to be able to create these memorable characters that the reader can become attached to. Character development, or the lack thereof, is arguably one of the greatest factors that separates a good novel from a bad one. So how can you, as a writer, try to ensure that your characters are brought to life?
While there isn’t a specific formula for creating a good character, here are a few things that you can do to help make sure each is interesting to your reader:
1. Have Motivations
This is the number one thing that your characters need to have. They need goals, they need motives, and they need to work toward these motives. Even if your character’s motivation is to find something that they are motivated by/about, there needs to be something to strive for. Characters who don’t have anything important to work for do not make an interesting story.
2. Be Relatable
If you want your readers to feel sympathy/empathy for a character, you need to give them at least a shred of humanity. While it might be hard to help readers to understand the same problems that your protagonist is going through (i.e., if they’re a superhero), having them stand for ideals (justice, love, freedom, etc.) or showing emotion or vulnerability can help your readers to become attached much more easily than if they are extraordinary people in exclusively extraordinary circumstances. You don’t necessarily need to get sappy, but readers will appreciate characters they can relate to on some level.
3. Vary Conflicts
Most readers don’t want to see the same thing happen again and again. One of the most interesting parts of any novel is to see how characters react to different situations. While it’s okay to have similar conflicts (take a series of mystery novels for instance), characters need to go about solving each struggle in a new way, or the problem needs to have a different focus. If you’re writing a fantasy novel, for instance, perhaps the invading orc horde has a new weapon. For a more realistic fiction novel, show how your protagonist reacts to, and overcomes, new challenges in their lives: a new job, a new home, a relationship torn apart. Once they have invested in a character, readers want to see how (s)he will deal with each new challenge, not how they deal with the same thing five different times.
4. Vary Personalities
You need to make sure that each one of your characters is distinguishable from the next. I can’t tell you how many books that I’ve read where “different” characters were exactly the same! Vary characters’ behaviors, their ethics, their likes and dislikes, their conflicts, and be sure that each has a distinct tone of voice. Especially if you have a large cast of characters, having too many similarities can cause readers to confuse one character for another, or lose interest from a lack of variety.
5. Ask Questions
Before writing a scene with any sort of significant dialogue or action, ask yourself a few questions to help make characters’ actions more clear before you start writing. For instance: What is this character’s opinion of the other people in this scene? What are his/her personal goals, and how will they be reflected? How will their personality affect their words and actions? What internal struggles may result from the choices the character needs to make?
While this advice might seem obvious, it’s often overlooked and easy to forget while you’re caught up in writing. Following these simple tips, however, can help you ensure that each of your characters is unique, interesting, and worthy of a reader’s attention.