Writing 102 - Believable Characters

February 7, 2019


The holy grail of all writing topics. How to write believable, LIKeABLE, characters. 


I mean, we all know I'm not the queen of likeable. I write very very good unlikeable characters, particularly the ones who people want to hate but there's just something under the surface that makes them want to know more. That's my jam. However, I do have character's that everyone loves. 


There is a formula, however, for making characters that people enjoy reading. The worst thing to do is create a character who's just two dimensional. They want A, they do B to get A, and then happily ever after happens. 


In general, most readers enjoy characters who have a motive, a goal, a life that you get hints of, all the things that make characters feel like real people. 


This includes secondary characters! The biggest mistake I see early authors making is that all their secondary characters, aka not mains, are stereotypes. The gay best friend, the masculine woman, the buddy who's secretly in love with them. These are FINE to have, but you also need to flesh these characters out far more than just a stereotype. 


So let's chat about how to make your characters the kind people want to read over and over again. 


Motivation is everything

I know they say this in school still, but you better believe its the truth. The motivation of a character has to be clear to make people want to read about them. If it isn't clear, you're going to end up in a situation where readers don't really like the character. 


A great example of this is my story Bride of the Sea. Manus never has a real motivation in the story. It made readers incredibly distrustful of him because it opens up a door for them to place their own experiences inside his head. 


Some readers put good things. He's a kind man wanting to help a woman who he loves. Other readers put in the idea that he's NOT a good man, and that he's taking advantage. 


This was a choice I knew I was doing, mostly as an experiment. But without knowing this would happen, the reviews might have been crushing. Keep this in mind! The motivation of a character is the reason for them to be in the book. If they have no motivation, you're just filling empty space.


Avoid boring personalities


No shit, Emma. Is this Writing 102? 


I'm going to say this one more time, however. AVOID. BORING. PERSONALITIES. 


What do I mean by this? I mean the stereotypes. Don't make the small town girl who just wants to get out into the big city. UNLESS she is also a flawed character, someone with hopes and dreams. Not of being an artist UNLESS her dream is that for a particular reason. 


The meaning behind your choices is what makes a character likeable. 


Take the Good Place for example. Each one of these characters is extremely flawed. That's the whole point of the TV Show. However, we love each character. Even the dumbest one because he isn't boring. Even Chidi, the philosophy professor who should be downright boring as hell, is well thought out, well mapped, and has a personality that is hilarious. 


When writing, think of the Good Place. Write flawed characters with personalities that sparkle and have so many layers you're reminded of Shrek.



Give your character a SECRET




I have trialed this theory and I can tell you, it works amazingly well. Giving your character something the reader doesn't know about will only make them far more interesting. People want to KNOW what's going on inside a characters head. They want to understand how in the world they're making their choices, and why. 


It's your job to make sure they don't find out until the perfect moment when shit hits the fan and you get that 'OH MY GOD' moment from your readers. 


Let me tell you, that is the utmost satisfying thing on the planet when you get to do that. No one wants to write an entirely predictable story. Your readers should be on the edge of their seats the entire time, and that should entirely be because there's something mysterious about your character they want to find out the answer to. 


Vulnerability and Depth


This is probably the most IMPORTANT THING when writing characters, so listen up. 


No one in real life is just "nice". They aren't just "mean". I'll be the first person to say I'd give you the shirt off my back if you needed it, but I'm also definitely a bitch. 




Welcome to reality. People are many things, all at the same time. You can be nice and still be rude to someone when you're having a bad day. You can be a jerk, but still help an old lady across the street because that's how your momma taught you to be.


Turn your characters into this. Don't make them a flat thing with no depth. Give them an ocean inside their bodies. Make them kind to some people, rude to others. Make them flawed and jealous creatures with heartbreak and angst riding their shoulders. 


But above all else, make sure they have moments of vulnerability. Even your villain should have a moment where they realize they'd hurt someone important to them. Otherwise, what's the point of writing the characters you love so much? 


Or, just listen to one of the greats. 



And that's that! Next week, we're back to self publishing and chatting about how to find good editors, AND how to self edit so your editors can focus on the important stuff. ;) 


As always, if you have any remaining questions, just shoot them at me down in the comments! I'm happy to talk about whatever questions you've got. 




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