How to Write Strong Characters

Readers are not interested in seeing cliché, stereotypical characters—we want characters that we can relate to: their dreams, their fears, their quirks and their emotions. When we go to a movie and when we read a book, we secretly want to learn something about ourselves from the experience. If you have admittedly cried during a movie—guilty—was it because you found truth in their struggle, maybe you were even able to relate?

The key to writing strong, lovable characters is to write ones that are true to life. No one is happy all the time, no one gets everything they want, everyone has fears, secrets, and everyone lies. The best way to improve in this department is to study life, don’t worry it is a lot easier than it sounds. Look around you, go to a public place, enjoy a cold drink and people watch. Be sure to advert your eyes when needed to retain your perceived normalcy. Bring a notepad with you to jot down occurrences of different types of body language, habits, and phrases you are attracted to. Does your character bite their lip or nails when they are nervous? How can a character tell when another is lying? What one-liner exposes more about the person than we know? Building a lengthy list of such everyday quirks and exchanges will help you develop a one-of-a-kind character.

Often we encounter stories that are centered on the main character being a victim. Have you ever read stories where the antagonist was stereotyped as purely evil, or selfish? Think about how some teens portray their parents, and the parent’s pure motivation to ruin the teen’s life. We have heard the story time and again, but now let’s take a different perspective. In my short stories “The Weight of Truth” and “Any Means of Survival,” I took characters that are normally perceived as “villains” and I shared what factors brought them to such circumstances. In movies you will see that even the villains have characteristics that the viewer can admire: a moment of doubt, a need longing to be fulfilled, a moment of weakness. Avoid writing characters that readers will hate, give them a reason to sympathize even with the villain—the added complexity is truly beautiful. It is easy to think of things we do not like that people do, it is much harder to find ways to justify what deeper motives might have brought them to such actions.

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