I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ve put a lot of books down because the characters were just completely fucking boring. This was especially troublesome for me when my favorite genre was YA urban fantasy. I have quite a few teen fantasy books on my shelves with bookmarks still sticking out of them from years ago.
And don’t get me wrong—all those books had really great hooks. Cool settings or an interesting conflict (and fantasy creatures to boot, so….). But then I actually started reading and all the characters were just bland cookie-cutter stamped duplicates of the same boring crap I’d already see a million times before.
You already know how their character arcs are going to go. There’s nothing new. Nothing to keep me interested. Nothing to make me care. Just 200+ pages spent with characters who have all the personality of soggy cardboard.
So how do you keep your characters interesting? It actually isn’t as hard as you might think. There’s one amazing SUPER TIP that I can give you that will totally make your characters pop. But I can’t just give you the SUPER TIP.
That’s something we have to work up to. (Or you could just skip to the bottom like an impatient noodle. But you’re not an impatient noodle, right?)
So, first off, the worst thing you can do for your character is dump everything you know about them in a long-ass paragraph at the beginning of the story. This goes for ALL YOUR CHARACTERS. Just don’t. A quick introduction—one or two lines—is just fine, but don’t try not to go overboard. Leave a lot to be discovered later on.
I say this because, at least in my opinion, some of the best novels have characterization through the wholebook.Reveal little things about your characters through the entire story. Pretty much everything your characters do should show the reader a little bit more of them.
Also, keep in mind that your characters’ actions speak louder than their words.Your characters can easily tell the reader they are one thing, but if all their actions contradict that, the reader won’t believe them. And unless you’re trying to make your narrator unreliable, that definitely isn’t a good thing.
For example, I recently read a novel where there main character insisted several times in the beginning that they were strong. They even punched a guy once by accident and made his nose bleed. But after that, they spent the entire novel crying and waiting for rescue.
It’s easier to let your characters show themselves than to prove themselves.When you explicitly tell your reader your character is going to be a thing, they will expect that thing. Instead of setting up expectations, let your characters surprise the reader with their actions. Let the reader get to know who they are based on the things they do, rather than just letting your character live up to set expectations.
Oh, and I feel like this should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Develop all your characters—at least a little.I mean, you don’t need full character arcs for your character’s boss who shows up twice, or the clerk they talk to at the grocery store a couple times. But every character who appears more than once should have something that makes them unique.Something that makes them stick out. Something that might speak to at least one reader out there.
That something can be just about anything. Clothes, hairstyles, accessories, speech patterns, dispositions, nervous ticks, their opinions, the way they walk, etc etc… It doesn’t matter what, as long as it makes them special.
And that’s about all the small advice I have, so I guess it’s time for the SUPER TIP.
The absolute biggest piece of advice I can give you for creating interesting, realistic characters is get to know them.
Yeah. I know. Big shocker there. And I know it doesn’t seem like a huge piece of advice, but it really is. The absolute best thing you can do is get to know your characters as if they were living, breathing people. Know them like they’re your best friend. Know things about them that will never appear in your story.
If you take the time to get to know them on a human-level, you’ll have a complete grasp on them. And the reader will be able to tell.
Hemingway once wrote, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”
Happy writing, lovelies.