7 tips for writing genuine characters
Characters are the most important part of a story. If you have weak characters, your story will be weak. Here are seven steps to build good characters.
1. Build a character profile.
Teach yourself about your characters! This makes them much easier to write and adds layers of realism. You should know their backstory, their family life, work experience, any traumatic events in their past, how they were raised, where they are from, what they believe in, how they spend their time, etc. All of these things will affect the way they speak, the things they want, how they try to get those things, and how they interact with other characters.
Here is a character template to get you started if you’re in the early stages of character development.
2. Give your character conflicting traits.
Real people have conflicting traits, and so should your characters. They are never going to be absolutely good or absolutely evil.
3. Give your character flaws.
Make sure your characters have flaws and weaknesses. This makes them interesting and realistic, but also gives them something to overcome.
You’re going to have elements in your plot that will provide obstacles, and you’ll likely have conflict between your characters, but you should still have conflict within the character.
This is where your character change (arc) will come from. What weakness do they have to overcome?
4. Make sure the weaknesses make sense.
The weaknesses need to make sense for the character’s background and experience. The strengths also need to make sense. Check out Jenna Moreci’s video on this topic! It’s very helpful for character sketches.
5. Know how your character should speak.
Here’s an video on dialogue that goes deeper into it, but know your character and their life and how they should speak based on those things.
If your character’s dialogue doesn’t feel authentic, neither will the character.
6. Know what your character wants.
Your character must want something. If your character doesn’t want anything, they won’t do anything. The last thing you want in your story is a static character.
A passive protagonist is boring and no one wants to read about a character who a plot is happening to. You want the character to propel the plot. How they act and react is going to depend on what they want, so knowing what they want is important.
7. Don't make your characters too similar.
If your beta readers are having trouble distinguishing between your characters, they may be too similar.
One easy way to make sure your characters are different enough is to use the 16 personality types. You can take the test as your character or just look over the profiles and see which one matches up most with what you know of your character so far.
If you’re seeing most of your characters fit under one or a few of the personality types, they are too similar.
Additionally, make your character diverse. If they’re all straight, cisgendered, WASPs, this is not a realistic world. It’ll be harder to tell them apart. And it’s just straight up lazy writing.
A few diverse elements to consider are:
- political affiliation
- physical and mental ability
- family structure
- life experience
There are so many ways people are different, so see what you can tweak about your characters to make sure they’re not too similar to each other.
Check out the video version of this lesson for more detail.