Whether you’re a fan of Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, or some other fictional world, there’s one question that’s always asked.
Who’s your favorite character?
As writers, we often dream of the day when our books lay before an audience, transporting them to another realm and introducing them to characters that they’ll fall in love with immediately. There’s only one problem. How do we actually write a character of value?
A character that will stick with the reader for months and years to come, living in their imagination and popping out at random times to bid them hello. Today I’m going to give you ten tips to create a character of value.
1. Make Them Sympathetic
We need to be able to root for this character, to justify their decisions, and to understand their pains. I call this making the character sympathetic. We need to understand they’re human, and they’ve been through a bucket load of pain. For example, Harry Potter is sympathetic because he’s an orphan and lives with a family that tells him their life would be better off without him. Katniss Everdeen is sympathetic because she’s lost her father and lived in absolute poverty, trying to make sure her mother and sister had at least one meal a day. Frodo Baggins is sympathetic because he also is an orphan, and loses the father figure in his life right off the bat.
You can make your character sympathetic by cutting off an arm, killing off a family member, or giving them some kind of trauma that they had to live through, and helps dictate how they view the world. In my most recent story, my main character is sympathetic because her father died, and her family life is a burning trashcan.
You have to make it believable, but every character must have one thing that makes them sympathetic.
2. Give Them A Solid Goal
We don’t want to read books that are aimless. And nothing makes them more aimless than a character who has no goal, who has nothing they’re fighting for, or fighting towards. For example, in Harry Potter, Harry’s goal is simply to fit in. He wants to be good enough to live up to his fame, and to stay in Hogwarts. Later, his goal changes to defeat Voldemort, but in the first book, it’s a simple enough goal. For Katniss, her goal is to protect her family. Later, it grows to protect all of Panem, but again. At the beginning, it’s a simple goal, but it’s enough to get her to volunteer for the Hunger Games. Frodo Baggins’ goal is to do what’s right, especially in regards to the ring. Simple enough goal, later it turns on to defeat the main villain.
Your character’s goal could be simply to survive, to fit in, or to protect themselves or others. It doesn’t have to be a majorly complex goal at the beginning of the story. But the goal has to be strong enough to believably cause them to make the hard decision that starts the story.
3. Give Them A Flaw
The number one reason people don’t like characters? They don’t have a flaw. If your character is lacking a flaw, they won’t feel real. There’s nothing about them that we can see ourselves in. For example, Harry’s flaw is his ambition, which leads him to disregard instructions. It’s also why the sorting hat wanted to put him in Slytherin. Katniss’ flaw is her lack of trust, which almost ends up with her and Peeta dead in all four books. Frodo’s major flaw is his lack of commitment, which almost ends up with him on the wrong side, and the ring never destroyed.
In my latest book, my character’s flaw is also a lack of trust. She doesn’t believe anything face value, which can also be a strength. Give your character a flaw that will trip them up in your book, but will also aid them in the final battle.
Or, in Frodo’s instance, give them a best friend.
4. Never leave them alone
Don’t let your character have a break. Why do the middle of some books get heavy and weighed down? Because the writer was too sympathetic towards their characters. Our job is not to be nice to our character. It’s to force them to grow, and to write a good book about that growth.
If you even let your character alone for a second, the reader might come away bored or confused when more important things start happening. Stay on your character’s tail. It’s worth it in the end.
5. Give them their own sense of humor
We often talk about character voice, and how important it is for our characters to have a unique voice, but we often forget to give our characters their own unique sense of humor. Does your character enjoy dad jokes? Are they extremely sarcastic? Do they have more of a dry sense of humor?
Their sense of humor will affect how they view the world, and it will help them immediately have a unique character voice. This is especially important if you’re writing contemporary or YA, as a lot of those books tend to have more of a comedic spin to them.
6. Lay back on describing
We love to find our character’s face claim, and mention their unique eye color every opportunity we get, don’t we? It’s so much fun to add what hair color they have every single time the wind blows in it, but guess what? It’s better to not do that.
The more you add character descriptions that are purely physical, the clunkier your story will be. In the end, your reader doesn’t care what your character looks like, because they’ll end up imagine the character however they want anyway. What’s more important is how the character moves, what facial expressions are their go-to, how the speak, and sometimes, what they wear.
In real life, eye color is not important. And it’s even less important in books, I’m sorry.
7. Make them see the world uniquely
Everyone sees the world differently. We all have different ways to describe things and categorize them in our brains. And even how we learn is different, whether it audio learning, kinetic learning, or learning by sight. Put that in your story. Show us how your character sees the world.
Is the world annoying to them? Are they a sailor or have grown up by the beach, so everything is compared to that? What are they scared of? How does that affect how they see the world? How have they been treated by others? Do they see people as a threat or as a friend? How to they respond to swimming? Are they scared of water?
There’s so many different ways to work a unique viewpoint for a character.
8. Give them a side kick
Harry has Hermione and Ron, Katniss has Rue, Peeta, Gail, and even her younger sister, while Frodo is most famous for his Sam, Pippen, and Merry. A good main character has at least one good side character to balance them out.
Have fun with this side character, make them be a force that challenges, that highlights, that pushes the main character forward in their journey and in they character arc.
9. Their Name Should Matter
You don’t necessarily need to have the name mean something on the nose, but a main character’s name matters. It needs to be memorable, it needs to stick with the character even after the reader has put down the book. Harry Potter wouldn’t be the same without his name, just as Frodo Baggins wouldn’t be the same. Find your character a name that sums up their personality, but also sticks with the story world and highlights the emotions you want your reader to pick up on.
10. Bring Them Full Circle
This could be as small as them saying the opposite of what they said at the beginning of the book, or doing an action they once scorned before they went on their adventure and became a better, healthier human being. Find what that action is, and bring it full circle. Not only does it bring in the warm fuzzy feelings, but it also gives the book a sense of completion. The knowledge that we can let our new friend go, because they’ll be perfectly capable on their own.
Who is your favorite book character? Do they display all ten of these things?