33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters

33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters

The Well-Storied Podcast

33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters

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CHAPTERS

THE WELL-STORIED PODCAST

33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters

JUL 31, 2020

Kristen Kieffer

Episode Transcript: http://www.well-storied.com/strongercharacters

If you want readers to invest in your characters and their journeys, then you must craft characters that readers can believe in—characters so well-developed and realistic that they seem to spring to life on the page. 

But crafting a cast that moves beyond caricatures and cardboard cutouts can be difficult. What steps can you take to develop complex and compelling characters today? 

Today’s episode includes 33 tips you won’t want to miss…

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No matter how much tension you pack into the pages of your book, readers won’t care about your story if they don’t first care about your characters. After all, there’s nothing page-turning about a predictable protagonist playing out a predictable plot.

If you want readers to invest in your characters and their journeys, then you must craft characters that readers can believe in — characters so well-developed and realistic that they seem to spring to life on the page. But crafting a cast that moves beyond caricatures and cardboard cutouts can be difficult. What steps can you take to develop complex and compelling characters today? 

Here are 33 tips you won’t want to miss…

#1: ESTABLISH THEIR ROLE

Before you can effectively develop a character, you must determine the role they’ll play in your story. Will they serve as a protagonist or antagonist? A sidekick, mentor, or love interest? Some other sort of secondary or tertiary character? 

<img src=”https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/582caad246c3c4568a7e562e/1515877922808-CHREUFTCRMQQ3B9RMIHL/ke17ZwdGBToddI8pDm48kKbYUC7ko4ep_M3O09c6DLZZw-zPPgdn4jUwVcJE1ZvWQUxwkmyExglNqGp0IvTJZUJFbgE-7XRK3dMEBRBhUpyUjG47s4lQqa3kGWpoR_DitVobFN0LmU1WvG_uZkJwkPR2-Fb7zwugw-NXPqcoGjo/Are+you+ready+to+fill+your+stories+with+incredible+characters%3F+Learn+how+to+craft+well-developed+characters+today+over+on+the+Well-Storied+blog%21&#8243; alt=”Photo by Martin Miranda on Unsplash” />

Photo by Martin Miranda on Unsplash

#2: DEFINE THEIR NARRATIVE PURPOSE

No matter the role they play, every character in your story must serve a purpose. If you can remove a character from your manuscript without impacting readers’ understanding of your plot or story world, then that particular character doesn’t add value to your story.

Give them purpose or let them go. 

#3: CONSTRUCT THEIR IDENTITY

Defining the basic demographic markers that determine your character’s identity can help you better develop their worldview and experiences—and help readers understand who your character is, of course.

Consider your character’s age, gender identity and sexuality, race, religion, ethnic background, level of education, and other common identifiers. 

#4: CONSIDER THEIR NAME 

Though they may seem simple, names can hold great power. Consider using your character’s name to showcase the era in which they live, to hint at their ancestry, establish a naming system for your fictional world, or otherwise lend additional depth to your story. 

#5: ESTABLISH THEIR APPEARANCE

Helping readers visualize your character by establishing their height, build, and coloring is important. However, don’t forget to consider other insightful elements of your character’s appearance, such as their mannerisms, gait, physical tics, and body language. 

#6: DEVELOP THEIR PERSONALITY

Your character’s personality is more than just a list of positive and negative traits. By exploring how the characteristics that define your character impacts their voice and lived experiences, you allow your character’s personality to breathe life onto the page.

#7: DETERMINE THEIR FLAWS

To be imperfect is to be human. By giving your character a moral shortcoming, negative character trait, quirk, fear, bias, and/or limitation, you develop a realistic character with whom readers can relate. Never mind the conflict that a good flaw can create.

#8: IDENTIFY THEIR FALSE BELIEFS

The human experience is rife with internal conflict. Doubts, fears, flaws, and regrets can all lead characters to formulate false beliefs about themselves and the world that impact nearly every aspect of their characterization.

#9: CONSIDER THEIR WORLD-VIEW

A character’s world-view can be defined as their breadth of knowledge and perspective concerning the world in which they live, which impacts how they think and interact. Elements like your character’s upbringing, education, religious and political beliefs, relationships, and societal influences can all impact their unique world-view.

#10: GIVE THEM A VOICE

A character’s voice is the unique way in which they engage with the world as determined by their world-view, personality, upbringing, and other key characterization elements. A character’s voice commonly manifests in their mindset, speech patterns, vocabulary, opinions, internal narrative, body language, and mannerisms.  

#11: DEFINE THEIR QUIRKS

Everyone has strange qualities and habits. Defining the quirks that make your character unique can help further distinguish them in readers’ minds, as well as lend to their relatability and/or serve as a key character flaw. 

#12: ESTABLISH THEIR RELATIONSHIPS

Relationships are a defining aspect of our lives. Whether good or bad, past or present, determining your character’s most important relationships can help readers better understand your character’s world.  

#13: DEFINE THEIR EVERYDAY REALITY

Consider what your character’s life is like before their story begins. How do they spend their days? What are their daily joys and trials? Establishing this reality is key to laying the foundation for your character’s first appearance on the page.

#14: DETERMINE WHAT THEY WANT

When your character first appears on the page, they’ll likely be dissatisfied with their life in some way (or become dissatisfied due to early events in their journey). Consider what your character believes will resolve this discontent. What do they want to have or achieve to lead a more satisfied life?

#15: DETERMINE WHAT THEY NEED

Often, what a character wants isn’t actually what they need to resolve the issues they’re experiencing in their life. If this holds true for your character, then determine what they need to realize or achieve to lead a happier life. 

#16: GIVE THEM A GOAL

A character’s goal determines the arc of their story, prompting the actions they’ll take and the conflicts they’ll encounter. Defining your character’s goal can help you address your story’s plot with confidence and clarity.

<img src=”https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/582caad246c3c4568a7e562e/1621902703484-SGFGKDI2BUO7THBGJT2K/ke17ZwdGBToddI8pDm48kON4pEnhalOBJv8hKX6PhcRZw-zPPgdn4jUwVcJE1ZvWQUxwkmyExglNqGp0IvTJZUJFbgE-7XRK3dMEBRBhUpxJEzn1xdGgHP9T-zwlqfdtIld7iJzRqkWbw8ji6gCtjXEB1EnSzVYs6kfifNm1I08/CCMEPlain.jpeg&#8221; alt=”CCMEPlain.jpeg” />

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#17: DEFINE THEIR MOTIVATION

Conflict means little without emotional context. To encourage readers to invest in your character’s journey, determine why your character wants to achieve their goal. What will push them to act despite obstacles and hardships?

#18: ESTABLISH THEIR HISTORY

Well-developed characters have lives that extend beyond the confines of the page. By giving readers a glimpse of your character’s backstory, you can lend context to their characterization and the conflicts they experience throughout their journey.

#19: DEFINE THEIR GHOST

A “ghost” is an aspect of a character’s past — often a form of guilt, grief, or grievance —that haunts them throughout their journey. Determining the ghost that haunts your character can inform many aspects of their characterization, from their goals and motivations to their personality, world-view, flaws, and false beliefs. 

#20: ESTABLISH THEIR DESIRES

Hope and longing are powerful human emotions. Consider what your character desires for their life. What do they envision for themselves in an ideal world? What dreams do they wish could come true, and why do they feel their dream is unattainable (at least in the present moment)?

#21: GIVE THEM INTERESTS

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. By giving your character interests that extend beyond the goal they’re working to achieve, you lend additional depth and realism to readers’ understanding of your character’s life.

#22: CONSIDER WHAT THEY LOVE

There’s no motivator more powerful than love. By defining who or what your character loves most in the world, you reveal to readers what they’re willing to fight for. 

#23: GIVE THEM AGENCY

Personal agency is the ability to exert power over one’s life. Though your character may find themselves in less than ideal circumstances from time to time, allowing them to exert at least some small measure of control over their life is essential if they’re to helm their journey and/or experience growth. 

#24: MAKE THEM RELATABLE

Readers don’t need to find characters likable to care about their stories, but they do need to relate to them in at least some small way. Consider what makes your character relatable, no matter the role they play in your story. 

#25: MAKE EVERY CHARACTER COMPLEX

It’s easy to lean into well-worn tropes when developing secondary and tertiary characters who don’t receive much time on the page. To ensure these characters feel just as realistic, consider one or two details you can slip into the text that hint at their richness and complexity. 

#26: SHOWCASE THEIR EMOTIONAL LANDSCAPE

One-note characters will always fail to come to life on the page. Allow readers to see your character as fully-realized by showcasing what makes them laugh, cry, seethe, cower, and otherwise experience a wide array of emotions. 

#27: MAKE THEM SWEAT

Handing your character success on a silver platter is a sure-fire way to cheapen their development. By giving your character numerous obstacles and uncertainties to conquer throughout their journey, you create opportunities to introduce readers to new facets of their characterization and growth. 

#28: ALLOW THEM TO FAIL

Failure reveals who we are at heart. Allowing your character to stumble and fall throughout their journey gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and develop as human beings.

#29: ALLOW THEM TO SUFFER

When your character encounters conflicts and failures, resist the urge to immediately resolve these issues. By forcing your character to dwell in their negative circumstances and emotions for more than just a brief moment, you give your character the opportunity to prove their mettle while lending a sense of realism to their journey.

#30: TAKE THEM TO THEIR HAPPY PLACE

While allowing your character to sweat, fail, and suffer is important, don’t pack your story full of so much conflict that readers never get to see what your character is like in happier times and moments of peace. Readers and characters alike need these small moments of joy and reprieve. 

#31: PUSH THEM TO THEIR BREAKING POINT

Happier times aside, well-developed stories require conflict. Ask yourself what line your character would refuse to cross to achieve their goal, then figure out what circumstance would force your character to cross it anyway. Bringing your character to this breaking point will be one of the most important and impactful moments in their journey. 

#32: GIVE THEM A REFUGE

When all seems lost, your character needs a safe haven (e.g. a person, place, or even a memory) from which they can draw much-needed strength. Where will your character find this refuge? What comfort or words of wisdom will encourage them to rise from the ashes of their experiences? 

#33: DEFINE THEIR STORY

If you’ve harnessed the tips in today’s article, then you’ve developed complex, compelling characters and explored key ways to bring those characters to life on the page. But at the end of the day, well-developed characters can’t stand on their own two feet. 

Readers may not care about your story if they don’t first care about your characters, but they also won’t care about your characters if those characters fail to take them on a journey.

You already have what you need to develop your characters’ stories. You’ve defined their wants and needs, their goals and motivations, their failures and breaking points. Now it’s time to draw upon all of the elements you’ve developed to weave a story that readers won’t soon forget.  

This is what makes for a strong character. Not a thousand tiny details but one grand story of was, and is, and will become. So tell me, writer: What journey will your characters experience? 

Are you ready to map out your character’s story?

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