5 Tips on Writing Great Characters

A writer’s goal of making characters that feel as if they are fleshed out and occupy a real space in your story may be a given, however, this is usually easier said than done. No matter how much you try and avoid it, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making your characters either a list of traits. The problem with this is that it’s hard to make people fall in love with a caricature of a character.

Expertly-crafted characters are three-dimensional with aspirations and complex motives, and most of all, at their core there is something our readers can empathize with. To help you avoid some of the common pitfalls, we’re going to give you X tips for writers in 2020 that will help you create great characters.

1. Build Empathy

It doesn’t matter what the setting of the story is or the fantastically unbelievable plots that surround the characters, as long as there is a human element with which our readers can attach themselves.

You can build empathy by having the character:

Moral Choices – They find themselves in a situation where they must choose between what is right and their loyalties.

Be at the Top of Their League – People are drawn to immense talent, regardless of a natural skill or hard work, we love seeing character’s dedicated to a craft.

Forced into Danger, Unjustness, or Emotional Turbulence – When a character is forced to overcome these predicaments at personal cost, we can’t help but feel for their plight.

2. Moral Ambiguity

While a character of supreme virtue can be an interesting take on a character, it’s hardly the case for the majority of people in the world. A person rarely sees themselves as the villain, so when they commit evil acts, it’s normally being justified as a means to an end. It’s also rare for a hero to be without sin (and a little boring as well).

Another one of the tips for writers in 2020, avoid the “Mary Sue” syndrome. Mary Sue, a token given to a Star Trek protagonist in a parody piece written by Paula Smith called “A Trekkie’s Tale” are hyper-idealistic stand-ins for the author. These one-dimensional characters are always the best in every area needed in the story and basically, act as a deus ex machina whenever writers write themselves into a corner.

3. Give Your Characters a Reason

Your characters have to have a reason to exist, whether they are wants and needs or hates and dislikes. The characters don’t even have to know their raison d’être (why should they, when most of the people in the world don’t know their reason for being), but as the author, you should know why they occupy space.

The reasons don’t need to be complex and deep, it just has to show that your characters have priorities that they will fulfill above other requests.

You have a neo-noir crime thriller and you go to a local contact for safe passage while running from mobsters, the easy solution, they let you in and you wait until the coast is clear. Or you could flesh out the local contact a little, give them a family that you may be putting in jeopardy, or give them a good reason not to sell you out.

These reasons aren’t deep, but they make the world a little more alive.

4. Embrace the Small Things

You want to make note of the small things that get overlooked in writing. You want to include small actions that are accompanied by bigger ones.

Maybe your main character is about to ask out a potential love interest, the big action would the asking, while you could explore the character during the approach. Do they shuffle their feet, twiddle their thumbs, or count the number of steps until they need to speak?

These don’t have to be recurring character quirks, just little details that anyone nervous would perform.

5. Character Growth

You want your characters to develop throughout the story. Do they become braver, more self-reliant, or simply aware of their inadequacies? In our tips for writers in 2020, you will want to explore the different paths that character growth can develop.

The growth doesn’t have to be a grand spectacle and for the most part, is generally a private and personal endeavor. While it’s nice to see the superhero learn that they were more than the sum of their powers and they defeat the bad guy, it’s more likely that a character will have grown so slowly over the course of the story that only characters who haven’t interacted with the protagonist since the beginning of the story will have noticed the change.

Even then, if your character’s development was a slow-burn of a process, then even older characters will not treat them any differently than they did at the beginning of the story.