By Abigail Roberts
One of the most crucial elements of a great story is a well developed main character. Think back to any novel that you’ve enjoyed reading. Most likely, there were characters that you felt like you could relate to, or at least a couple whose decisions and actions were interesting to read about. The thing that makes these characters so interesting and likable is that they have flaws and fears as well as the traits that make them strong. When we read about them, we can see parts of ourselves paralleled in the characters, and because of that, they are relatable. But sometimes, it’s really challenging to create these rounded, relatable characters. Many times when I re-read the stories that I write, I’ve been dissatisfied with how one dimensional my characters were. That said, here are some tips that have helped me overcome flat characters and build their personalities.
1) Be sure to give them relatable flaws. One thing that is really helpful for me is to pick out something about my own personality that I would like to improve upon, and work it into my character. A big reason to have flawed characters is that your readers will be interested in seeing how they learn and grow to overcome the very imperfections that they -your audience- struggles with in their own lives. Many readers read to be inspired, and seeing your characters gradually improve themselves will definitely satisfy them.
2) Being clumsy or ugly doesn’t count.
I recently read a book with a main character whose greatest flaw was that she wasn’t pretty. The book had a very cool concept and great writing style- but for some reason, I felt disconnected to the main character. Then I realized that the character didn’t really have any real personality quirks. Most of the time, she focused on how ugly she thought she was, and after a while, it got a little old. Being not the best looking, or heavy on your toes is something that lots of people could be embarrassed about, but these aren’t flaws, just physical features- and unless your character pays for an expensive procedure, he/she probably won’t be able to fix it. On the other hand, being insecure about his/her physique is an extremely relatable emotion that your character could potentially overcome, making it a great flaw that your audience can connect with.
3) Give your character a fear that foreshadows later events in your story.
A huge part of storytelling is creating a conflict that drives your story, and making your character fear something that he/she will eventually have to face in some way, shape or form is a great way to add both character depth and a sense of suspense and urgency to your story that will help it move forward. There are thousands of different fears out there to give your character- just make sure it will be relevant and meaningful to the greater scheme of the story- for example, if your character is afraid of spiders, be sure that a pivotal moment in your story involves him facing spiders. Also, your character doesn’t just have to have fears like arachnophobia or being afraid of the dark. Sometimes the most relatable fears are the ones that evoke emotion for almost anyone- the fear of losing the people you love, or the fear of not being able to control your fate.
4) Justify your character’s fears with a backstory.
One of the best ways to achieve character depth is to develop a backstory to let your audience know why your character is the way he/she is. Perhaps your character’s greatest fear is not being able to save a loved one. That is a completely valid fear on its own, but your readers will understand his fear better if they know that they lost their beloved grandmother to evil people because they weren’t there in time to save her. A backstory like this will round your character and make it much easier for your audience to sympathize with them.
These are just a few tips, but they definitely helped me to round out my characters. Happy writing, and stay inspired!
–Abigail Roberts, Teen Commitee