Tips for creating interesting and compelling characters in your story

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Characters add color, flavor, and they are the foundation for any good novel.

You can have the most interesting, exciting plot and storyline, but without good characters, it’s like cooking food without salt. The story will fall flat. To help you create multi-dimensional and compelling characters in your story, here is some advice.

Do

  • be picky about the character’s name
  • build a backstory for your character
  • write a list of physical characteristics
  • write a character sketch
  • draw inspiration from your own favorite books and characters

Don’t

  • be afraid to go against the grain
  • be afraid to change your mind
  • create generic archetypes
  • forget to progress your characters
  • forget that dialogue is a powerful way to create unforgettable characters

Do

Do be picky about the character’s name

Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet…” But a name, like any word that a writer uses in his/her writing is important. The sound of it as it rolls of the tongue and the feeling it evokes (strength, femininity, rebelliousness) are crucial aspects to being selective with a name. The name is also sign of the times. If your main character is Mildred, that might not be the best choice for a teenager in 2015.

Do build a backstory for your character

Where does he/she come from? What’s happened in their childhood that would motivate them to react in a certain way. The better you understand your character, the more realistic they will be to readers.

Do write a list of physical characteristics

Is he tall? Lanky? How does that help/hinder the action of the book? Sometimes, initial hindrances can later become the character’s strength.

Do write a character sketch

A character sketch includes name, age, gender, height, weight, eye color, hair color, distinctive features, personality traits etc. This is a great reference tool for consistency as well as a way to help you visualize your character.

Do draw inspiration from your own favorite books and characters

Reflect on your favorite book characters. What made them stand out to you? What made them unique and endearing? Take some ideas from your favorite novels and adapt them for your characters in your story.

Don’t

Do not be afraid to go against the grain

Some of the more endearing heroes/heroines are often people that don’t seem quite up to the hero/heroine status. Harry Potter anyone? Neither Bella or Anastasia were gorgeous girls, but both managed to catch the eye of some hunky male heroes. Unique characters will make your story unique as well.

Do not be afraid to change your mind

Back in the day when writers hand typed their manuscript page-by-page, a name change, or any change for that matter, would have been a potential nightmare… but thanks to modern technology, now it’s a simple search/replace.

Do not create generic archetypes

Blond, blue-eyed, and tall. Okay… but be more specific. Was it honey blond… strawberry blond… ombre blond with copper undertones? Using descriptive, precise words is what gives your character dimensions, uniqueness, and prevents them from sounding like the description of a Barbie doll.

Do not forget to progress your characters

Don’t forget that as your story progresses, your character, their looks, the way they think, dress, act, should also evolve as well. We are constantly evolving so why shouldn’t our characters? Conflict, time, etc. all are factors in change… that should also be reflected in your character.

Do not forget that dialogue is a powerful way to create unforgettable characters

Sure a Brad Pitt lookalike main character is nice, but one with an acerbic wit is a great way to make sure your readers definitely don’t forget about him. Does your character use slang, cuss? Does he have a Southern drawl? A Boston accent? The way a character speaks, as well as what he says, is a great way to create an unforgettable character.

Summary

Characters are the heart of any story. And developing good characters starts with a well-thought out choice for their name, their physical description, along with any defining characteristics. Writing a thorough character sketch as well as a backstory can help you understand your character better and serves as a helpful reference as you develop your story. And don’t forget though that dialogue is a great way to showcase the uniqueness of your characters and a great way to leave your reader thinking about them long after they’ve put your book down.

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