3 Secret Ingredients to Creating Characters You Love

12:33 PM Gemma Fitz 2 Comments

Lately, I've been rewriting the novel I drafted for NaNo back in November. Diving into the edits back in April, I was painfully aware of the many problems that needed fixing. One of these was my main character. I simply didn't like her.
As part of the writing community, we hear a lot about "strong leads" and "proactive characters". But all the strength and pro-activity in the world won't make our characters worthwhile if we, as the authors, don't love them. What makes a character great is the passion and care that the author puts into him. If we don't love our characters, the readers can tell-- trust me. And it usually results in either a "why do I care?" feeling, or an anger at the author for playing favourites with his characters.

So it's important to love our characters. But what if we just don't? (This may sound stupid to some of you-- why would I be writing this story in the first place if I don't love my characters?-- but some of us really do struggle with. If you don't, kudos to you. You probably don't need to bother reading this post.) What can we do to make ourselves fall in love with our characters, when in reality they're not all that lovable? We fix the character, of course!

Haha. Easier said than done. So I'm here to help with 3 secret ingredients you can add to spice up your character. These have been tested-- they worked for me, turning a lump of boring, annoying personality traits into one of my best friends. That being said, if you try them all and still hate your character, I will humbly accept your blame. (But if that's the case, maybe you just need to drop-kick that charrie out of your story.)

1. A piece of yourself.

You've probably heard this one before, and your character may already have it. But if he doesn't, you need to pour some in right now.

Think about your friends. Why was it you developed relationships with these people? Chances are it was because you had something in common: a hobby, a fandom, or, if nothing else, possibly age. If you didn't have anything in common, you wouldn't have anything to talk about-- unless you were both the sort of people who love to argue, in which case, you had that in common!
It's important that you have something in common with your characters, something you can understand and identify with.

2. A piece of someone you love.

Think about your favourite character, your best friend, or your closest family member. What do you admire about each of them?

When I was trying to make Avis, my MC, more likable, I sat down and thought of all my favourite female characters in books, movies, and tv shows, the people I admired most: people like Martha Jones from Doctor Who, Ella from Cinderella, and Idril Celebrindal from the Silmarillion. Before long, I realized that they all had three things in common: they were smart, strong, and selfless.

Pick a few of the qualities that the people you admire share, and make them defining traits in your characters' personalities. It could be a sarcastic sense of humour, an eternally positive attitude, or an ability to take charge in any given situation. Whatever it is, take it and run with it.

Note: You probably admire a lot of people, and they may be very, very different. It helps if you take a small number of people who are most like your character and look for their defining traits. For instance, I love Maria Hill, but she in no way resembled Avis, so I didn't bother trying to give Avis the traits I admired in Hill.

3. A piece of something you value.

I'm an extroverted feeler, and I highly value people and relationships. Stories where the protagonist has to learn to "believe in himself" in order to accomplish his goal don't ring true to me. I can believe in myself all I want and still fail. What do ring true to me are stories where one person isn't enough in himself-- where it takes other people to get him through to the end. That's why Avis is team oriented: she needs people, and she's knows it's important to help people as well.

What's something you value? It might be anything: peace, honesty, nature. Don't be afraid to make that a part of your character.

When your character is made up of things you care about-- yourself, your friends, your beliefs-- it's hard to feel disinterested or apathetic. You have to care. You have to relate. You have to love.

But before I fade out, I just need to say one more thing. Don't let what's "popular" and "safe" dictate your characters. Because if you just make your character into the type of person you think your reader will like, but don't particularly care for yourself, it shows. Write characters that you love, even if you think that they'll get lost among the Katniss Everdeens and Tony Starks. It's more important that you love them, even then that your readers do.

What are some things that get you fangirling over your characters? Have you ever tried taking characteristics from your favourite characters and giving them to your own? Do you think that's plagiarism (because if it is, I'd better get running from the law...)? What are some things you value which are woven into your characters? I want to know EVERYTHING (and yes, that was just the slightest bit creepy, sorry).

2 comments:

  1. I'm going to keep these points in mind while I work on my next protagonist. Right now he's a little bit flat and too much like a mix of my favourite characters (it might not be plagiarism, but it's kind of humourous in an embarrassing way, so I'm trying to fix it. :P). What gets me fangirling over him? He hates people. (Sorry, that's a bit of me in there.) And then of course he ends up sacrificing himself for the people he "hates". (That's not me. At all. :P But it is like a lot of my favourite characters.) Also, he's short. I love short people. But that's totally unrelated.

    I agree most strongly with your last point. I've never thought of it before, but giving your character a trait you really value would certainly make the story more important to you. Thanks for another awesome post!

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    Replies
    1. There's a fine line between borrowing characteristics and making your character a smoothie of other characters. Sometime it can be a little obvious that that character is Loki all over again, with a dash of Feanor... :P Haha, I love it when the person who "hates" people ends up treating people better than he treats himself-- it's pretty realistic, too, knowing you.

      *Loki voice* No, thank you. I always enjoy your comments!

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