5 Tips for Writing Kick-Ass Characters

Walter White from Breaking Bad
Bryan Cranston as Walter White

Characters make the story.

They are the most difficult aspect of any work in progress, and the most crucial to its success.

There are so many elements to be considered when dealing with characters, especially when your cast is many.  And let’s face it; your characters are in need of some tender loving care.

Have no fear!  This scribe has some tips and ideas to help you write kick-ass characters that your readers will never forget.

1. Make Them Relatable

What was the last book you read, film you watched, or game you played where you were rooting for the main character, wishing you were by her side to help in the struggle?

Now ask yourself why you felt this way about that character. You’ll find that, in some way, you could relate to her or the situation that she was is in.

Relatable characters are the ones that you can identify with, the ones you want to see succeed, and the ones who make your throat tighten when they are in jeopardy. You might even feel tears welling up at the thought of their demise.

That level of emotion is what you want your audience to experience during the trials and tribulations of your characters. Give readers something to connect to, give them a voice that resonates with them, and give them someone that they would punch in the face if they could. Each character should have a special pull on the reader, whether it be inspiration, admiration, envy, or fury.

2. Know Their Purpose

Always keep in mind the purpose of your character when writing your story, whether it be to mentor your hero, save the world, or become the dastardly villain that betrays others.

So, where do you begin?

Start with a role that needs to be filled, and then work around that. This way, you don’t end up with a plethora of unnecessary characters who encumber the development of the plot. Remember: with every character that you add, you’re adding more complexity to your story.

Once your main players have been developed, you can add additional characters to season your plot.  I discover niches and voids that need to be filled, and incorporate new characters – or further develop existing ones – to fill them.

3. Hone Dialogue

Dialogue is the primary means through which characters establish a connection with readers.  Words, along with their actions, show who a character truly is.  For some authors, writing dialogue comes naturally.  But for others, dialogue can be a nightmare.

Try these tricks if you are struggling with conversations:

  • Put yourself in your character’s shoes – You don’t know what a character would say or how he would react? Take a moment and really put yourself in his mindset. How would he react to what just happened or what was said? Would his first reaction be frustration, or would he break down in tears?
  • Use contrast – You don’t want your characters to sound alike – so spice things up! Consider that everyone is unique in how they express themselves.  In large conversations involving multiple characters, find ways to differentiate each character’s voice.  Try giving each character a distinctive vocabulary or pattern of speech.  Feed on the differences between your characters and their backgrounds in order to make your conversations more vivid and compelling.
  • Keep it short – Sometimes conversations take on a life of their own, and grow out of hand.   When this happens, trim them back to their essential elements. Remember that people don’t want to read pages of dialogue.  While your characters might have a lot to talk about, don’t forget that you have a plot to advance – so get to it!
  • Act it out – Try getting up and acting out the scene. Acting is one of the most effective ways to learn how your characters will react, because you are literally taking on their persona.  Start running through the scene, and see where it takes you.

4. Provide Real Challenges

Nothing is more irritating than characters who face the hardships of a story, and seem barely phased.  I’m talking about seemingly invulnerable badasses.  Those characters who endure a three-day-long battle with only a scratch.  Those who rally an entire army or kingdom with a single speech.  Those who get the girl just by flexing a muscle.  Those are the heroes who start strong and end strong, with barely a downfall.

Characters like these, while they may be fun in certain circumstances, don’t elicit emotional investment. Nor are they very interesting.

Give your character a challenge. A real challenge. Let him face serious hardship, and grow from it.

5. Allow Real Failures

We all experience failures, and so should your characters. Knowing that a character has failed once, and can fail again, builds suspense. Maybe your hero won’t make it out of the dungeon alive; maybe the villain will conquer the realms; maybe the “good guys” aren’t really the ones in control.

By showing that failure is a real possibility, you will make the reader want to be there with your hero, to help him along his path.

These are some of the methods that I use to develop and enrich my characters.  What about you?

Do you have any tips for writing kick-ass characters?

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9 years ago

I always act out scenes. I agree; It is a very effiecient way of writing. If I’m not sure how to get from point A to point B in the story, I get off of my bed stand in the middle of my room and act the entire scene out with all the characters and see where my acting takes me. It gives me a closer feel for each character and what they’re feeling so I’m better equipped to write about what they would do next.

9 years ago

I definitely agree that the need for strong awesome characters in all stories is absolutely essential. I read a lot of books, and the ones that do not describe the characters fully in the beginning of the book just leave an unsatisfied taste/feeling, as if you didn’t know the person. If a character is described well enough, you will feel as if you know them!

9 years ago

This article is pretty good.

9 years ago

@asgavin @mythicscribes This was really helpful. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

Sonia G Medeiros
9 years ago

Very good suggestions!

Lauren Paul
Lauren Paul
9 years ago

well that’s my problem….they kinda show up for a visit tell me what’s up then leave without finishing the story….I have 10 unfinished novels

9 years ago

i am trying to write memorial charaters  hopefully i will for my first novel can always edit it after first rough draft

Feo Takahari
Feo Takahari
9 years ago

For my money, the best writer to read in order to learn how to write contrast is Charles Dickens. He’s capable of distinguishing the speech patterns not just of different social groups, but of each member of a given group. (It’s amazing how many characters in Oliver Twist can be identified from a single quote.)

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