Make them flawed This is the one that young writers seem to trip over a lot when they first begin their journey into story, and for good reason. We all want our characters – especially our main character – to be likable. But, that’s just it, no one likes perfection, because perfection doesn’t exist. ‘To be flawed is to be human,’ but the same thing goes whether your character is human, alien, robot, animal, vegetable or whatever other species or entity you fancy your character as being. Make them insecure. Make them uncertain. Make them over-confident. Make them vicious. Make them judgemental. Honestly, the more flaws, the better. Perfection is boring. So, so boring. More importantly, giving your character flaws gives them something to overcome! That’s right, it gives your character room to evolve, and conflicts to fall into, and really, there’s no point in reading a story if the character remains the same after all that they’ve been through. Make sure the flaws you choose are personality flaws. A fault within their character. Being clumsy is cute, it’s not really a flaw. Not being good at something isn’t really a flaw either. Don’t be afraid to make your character’s personality far from perfect – that’s the key to making them likable and to making your story interesting.
Make them want something This one is also essential to a good story, and one that can be a bit of a stumbling block for writers. Sure, there are plenty of great stories in which the hero wants treasure, or wants to destroy a magical object, or wants to save the queen or slay the dragon, but the better wants – the goals, dreams, desires – are more personal and less tangible. This doesn’t just go for your protagonist, but for all of your more important characters. You could even turn a companion character into an antagonist by making them want the same thing as your character, yet only one can have it. There should be a good motivation behind your character’s goal. If your character wants friendship, they are probably motivated by loneliness. If your character wants to slay the dragon, it’s possibly out of revenge. If your character wants to save the queen, it’s probably because he’s hopelessly in love with her. It’s the motivation that makes us care about the character’s desire or goal. If your character wants treasure just to get rich or famous, then tie this in with your character’s flaw – perhaps your character is greedy. If this is the case, then what they do find in the end, shouldn’t be the treasure, but something that helps your character to grow.
Make them have lots of different things going on at once In real life, there’s rarely ever just one thing going on with a person in any given situation. People are complicated, we get tired at inopportune moments, we run late to important meetings, we have our hearts broken and have to pretend we’re okay. If you have stuff like this happening in the background during your story, it adds layers to your characters and heightens the tension in every scene.
Make them conflicted Conflict is at the heart of every story. In fact, we can’t really call something a story without it. And perhaps one of the most powerful types of conflict is inner conflict. At the core of internal conflict is your character having to make an impossible or difficult choice, although at its best, it’s far more than that. It’s also the fallout. It is Anikan Skywalker’s descent to the dark side and ultimately becoming Darth Vader. It is Buzz Lightyear having tea as Mrs. Nesbitt because he’s just found out that he’s a toy. It is Macbeth’s hallucinations. It is Professor Snape’s relationship with Harry. It is through these conflicts that we discover who a character really is. The inner turmoil is what makes us sympathise with characters. It gets us emotionally invested in their lives, and makes them memorable.
Don’t make them too realistic I know I’ve talked a lot about creating characters that are relatable, but relatable is not to be mistaken with realistic. To be sure, there are some real life characters that you just can’t make up. Their lives are dramatic enough to warrant them having a story based on them – but they are the exception. You might be inspired by real life people and borrow from their lives and personality traits, but once you start writing, that character more often than not takes their own shape, and your imagination is your best tool from that point. If you make your characters too realistic, then they’re probably going to be too boring for a good story. The reason fiction is so fantastic, is because it’s not real. A well crafted character presents the illusion of being real. Audiences often think that some of the best written characters must be based on their authors, because the honesty and depth of the character is such that it couldn’t be made up, but, although there is often some of the author in his/her characters, the best characters are the ones that are plucked from the greatest imaginations and develop authentic thoughts, feelings and behaviours of their own.