The shadow of a story in your mind, you sit down and begin to write.
Too soon however, you are stumped and your mind wanders in circles. Your hero just cannot seem to find their footing in your story. Your dialogue is stale, your story becomes stagnant.
Chances are, even with a fleshed-out plot, if your characters are not motivated, unique, flawed, and dynamic, your story will fall flat. Your readers will fall out of love with even the most deliberately crafted prose.
To keep readers engaged, create characters that are memorable and three dimensional, from protagonist and villain to sidekick and supporting character.
Follow this guide to create characters that are human, believable, and worth rooting (and reading) for.
1 – Motivation
The first step to creating memorable characters is to give your character something to strive for. What is your character’s ultimate goal? What obstacles stand in the way of them reaching that goal?
If you’re having trouble creating tension in a scene or giving each character a tangible goal to strive for, remember the following words: “somebody-wanted-but-so.”
In these four words are the key to every story: a character (somebody) wanted something, but something stood in their way, so they did something about it.
If you can take a scene apart and form a somebody-wanted-but-so sentence, you have succeeded in creating motivated and interesting characters.
2 – Unique skills
Your main character needs a unique skill, quirk, or asset which will become the key to solving their dilemma, defeating their villain, or unlocking their mystery.
This skill can be as simple as knowing how to tie knots better than anyone else, or being in possession of the best apple pie recipe on earth.
This unique trait needs to be something that sets them apart from other characters in the literary world, as well as from other characters in your story.
3 – A critical fear/flaw
The flip-side of your protagonist’s signature strength is their critical fear or flaw. This is the achilles heel your character must overcome if they are to conquer the obstacles to their goal.
Is your protagonist afraid of spiders? Your character must now vanquish enormous tarantulas.
Is their critical weakness a soft spot for kittens? Your villains can use cats to create a ruse that allows them to take your protagonist hostage.
If your character cannot overcome their fears or rid themselves of their flaws, they must throw themselves wholeheartedly into embracing them. For example, your hero is a thief who can’t stop stealing, but can use their pilfering skills to pull one last heist that ransoms the rest of his crew.
4 – Appearance
So often we think of the surface of our characters before we give them any substance.
To ensure that your character is not two-dimensional, use your character’s appearance as a way that they interact with the world around them. Your character might be mocked because of their shabby appearance, or feared because of their scarred face. A short person might be stealthy and cunning, while a taller person might be blundering and clumsy.
5 – Language
With the saturation of literature out there, your character’s voice must rise above the din and prove them unique and worthy of a reader’s (and publisher’s) time.
Your character does not need a strange accent or speech pattern to accomplish this, they need only to be sincere and authentic.
To give your protagonist a voice that lifts them above the throng, get inside their head. Your readers will, after all, be spending a great deal of time there, especially if your protagonist narrates their story.
Your protagonist must also have a unique voice when speaking with other characters. Vary the way your characters construct their sentences, and base their tone on their personality and the situation they face.
6 – Make your character dynamic, not static
If your hero is the same at the end as at the beginning, why did this story even take place?
To ensure that your character is dynamic – changing gradually over time as they tackle new hurdles and best their enemies – think of the subtext of your story.
Is there a lesson to be learned from your story? A message you wish to impart to the world through your characters and the lessons they learn themselves?
In every hero’s tale, through their trials and blunders, their beliefs, practices, and flaws shift, and the main character of the story is not the same.
Give your character flaming moral hoops to jump through, and they will change according to how much you challenge them.
Now that you know how to form characters that are motivated, unique, flawed, and changing, you can create characters that readers will love and understand as much as you do.
Your characters are so lively and real in the vision you have drawn up in your mind, and this guide merely assists you in better painting that vision for your audience. Happy writing!