#TheWritingDesk: How To Write Better Characters

When you're writing a story, one of the key focus should be, besides the plot, the characters. Too often good stories fall short of being great because the characters were not three-dimensional. It is super important to get your readers to become invested in your characters. Because more often than not, they are reading the story to see if the character they are rooting for succeeded.

Tip 1# Make your characters likeable. 

There's a fine line between a likeable character and an unlikeable character. Contrary to popular belief, you can write antagonists who are likeable. For example, in my story The Backyard Tales, Shekar's dad Mr. Roy is a likeable antagonist. And you can also write unlikable protagonists: case in point Diya Rai from All Signs Lead Back to You. But if you need more convincing, Artemis Fowl started off his series as an anti-hero. And when was the last time you heard someone say that their favourite character from Harry Potter is the boy wizard himself?

Tip 2# Always give your character a goal.

Unless you give your character a goal, chances are people will not care what happens to him / her. John Green’s novel Paper Towns has the protagonist Q, read all the clues left behind by his childhood crush, Margo, so that he can find her again. We want to know what happened to Margo too. We start trying to solve the clues along with Q to figure out the truth about Margo. Q’s goal is to find Margo and bring her back home.

Tip 3# Ensure your character has a rich history. 

Maybe they had a fight with their enemy when they were little. Lara Jean from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before used to be best friends with Genevieve when they were little. But a misunderstanding has created a rift between them, which shows itself in little ways in the present. Or maybe like The Secret Proposal, Jasmine has always been in love with Veer and he had never cared about it. He remains oblivious to her actual feeling until the very end.

Tip 4# Give them a specific character trait. 

This doesn’t have to be physical. It can be something that is not tangible. It can be something relatable. Such as Raashi Ghoshal from my upcoming novel, Raashi Ghoshal Will Find Her Prince Charming, is deeply addicted to tea and is also working through her anxiety. Similarly, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, all had defining character traits and were beloved. Even though Jo outshone all of her sisters – it is her love for Beth and her devotion towards her weaker sister that makes her the most likeable.

Tip 5# Give them flaws. 

No one likes reading about Little Miss Perfect or Little Mister Perfect. One of the best ways to ensure your character is human is to ensure they bleed when they’re cut. It is also human to make mistakes. In Perks of being a Wallflower, Charlie screws up big time with his new set of friends. It takes a while for things to go back to normal. As we empathize with his struggles, we also begin rooting for him to get to the bottom of his hermit-like behaviour. 

Tip 6# Give them quirks. 

Sidney Sheldon’s famous novel, Tell Me Your Dreams, had a character who would say ‘Pop goes the weasel’. Catchphrases or even quirks such as the way someone pushes their hair out of their eyes etc. makes a character really create an impression. If I said, I won’t think about it today, I will think about this tomorrow – you would know I’m referring to Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind. These quirks give your characters a much higher recall. 

Tip 7# Give them moral dilemmas. 

That being said, we would also like to see them come close to crossing those lines. Put them in impossible situations and then help them find a way out of it. Not only will it make for a very gripping story – it will make your readers begin to ask themselves what they might do if placed in the same shoes as the characters they are reading about. The famous argument – “I didn’t have a choice” can be countered and challenged.

Finally, and I've said this before, it is important to know your characters like the back of your hand. Know them better than anyone else - even if the details never make it to the final draft of the book. Happy writing better characters for your stories!


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