Mar05

How do I write interesting characters?

Two years ago I thought I knew how to write interesting characters. Two years later I found out that I didn’t have a clue. Today I think I’ve found the answer to the age old question: How do I write interesting characters?

It took two published books, critical reviews, and analysis of other works to finally understand that I had been writing my characters all wrong. The worst part was that the solution to writing interesting characters is actually extremely simple.

When I wrote my first book, a lot of readers complained in their reviews that Cindy was an unlikeable character and most people hated her. Naturally my response was, “WTF ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” because how dare people not like your main character, right? Ah, how silly I was back then.

Anyway, not wanting to repeat the same mistakes, I tried to make Cindy more likeable. Unfortunately, once I finished book two, Cindy ended up turning into the “Seinfeld” of Seinfeld. What does that mean? Anyone who has watched the 90’s sitcom Seinfeld knows that you didn’t go to watch the show for Seinfeld. You tuned in so you could laugh at co-stars Kramer, George, and sometimes Elaine. Jerry was just the guy who brought the more interesting characters together.

See where I’m going with this?

To be honest, when I wrote the second book I thought for sure people would finally warm up to Cindy. Surprise, surprise, the readers instead raved about the villain Alexis!

 

To quote one of my Twitter followers, “The sisters were great but Alexis stole the show for me.”

 

I sat there thinking to myself, “How the hell did this evil little character steal the show?” Granted, I was super excited to write about her and had been dreaming of writing about her years before I even published the first book. Still the book is called The Silver Ninja and Cindy is the main character. It’s great that people enjoyed the villain but if the majority of time is spent focusing on Cindy. I think we can all see the problem here.

Even Jadie, her sister, stole moments that made her seem more important than Cindy! What the heck was I doing wrong with Cindy and right with the others? I had no choice but to stop writing book 3 and really analyze and fix the problem. I cannot have a book series with a main protagonist that no one cares about.

I took a break from writing, picked up Game of Thrones, The Shining, Shift and Dust from the Wool series, and a few indie books including a terribly written erotica novel, and got to reading. If you haven’t already picked up on this before–PAY ATTENTION NOW!

You must read other works in order to become a better writer. If you don’t have favorite books or haven’t read anything, your work is going to be garbage and then you’re going to cry when people bash it online. Don’t make the same mistake I did. READ!

*Deep breath* Anyway, it was through reading that terrible erotica novel that I had made a surprising discovery. Everything the primary character did in that novel made me hate her in all the wrong ways. She was selfish, mean to her friends, overly emotional, and completely useless. Essentially, she was the way I wrote Cindy in book one.

 

“AHA!” Was my first reaction. “Oh no . . .” was my second.

 

Can you have a selfish protagonist? Yes. Can she be mean to her friends and overly emotional? Yes. The one thing your protagonist cannot be is USELESS. As soon as she’s done crying, moping, and being mean to her friends, she’d better cowgirl the f— up.

 

When the plot presses down on the character, the character needs to fight back and try to change the plot to her liking.

 

If you need examples of boring characters vs. interesting characters, check out a few chapters from Game of Thrones.

Compare the character Catelyn vs. the character Cersei.

Catelyn is the mother of the Stark household. She’s seen a lot of sh** and has personally witnessed many people die. Naturally, you’d hope that Catelyn would pick up a sword or call up some favors and start plotting her revenge. NOPE! She cries, she mopes, she worries, and she allows herself to be carried off by the whims of others.

The only thing she does to affect the plot is release a prisoner. That’s it. Although Catelyn was a very believable character, her chapters made for an excruciatingly boring read and also made her unlikeable.

 

Cersei on the other hand is the twin to Jaime Lannister and serves as the Queen regent after the death of the king. She witnesses a few deaths herself including some that hit extremely close to home. What does Cersei do? She cries and then goes back to scheming. Unlike Catelyn, Cersei seeks revenge and does everything in her power to win the Game of Thrones. Though she’s completely incompetent, Cersei is at least molding the plot to what she wants.

And there you have the magic ingredient to creating interesting and memorable characters.

They must, affect, the plot. Experienced author’s already know what this is, it’s called character agency. If you need a better definition, click here: Character agency, what the heck is it?

Readers liked Alexis from book 2 because in every chapter she continued to punch the plot. “Oh you’re telling me my daughter is sick. Okay, who do I have to kill to get her an organ transplant?” Nothing could stop her from getting what she wanted and she ended up influencing the plot by constantly hurting Cindy mentally, emotionally and physically. A literary bulldozer so to speak.

This is the kind of power that Cindy should have had, not the supporting characters. By having the plot happen to Cindy rather than having Cindy create the plot, you create a character that is bland and uninteresting.

So if you want to write an interesting character, you need to let them affect your plot. Then you as the author must ally with the antagonist and make it almost impossible for them to get what they want. Character agency is incredibly common knowledge and it’s embarrassing that it took me this long to figure out. If you don’t want to make the same mistakes I did, then I suggest you write and read. Make your own mistakes, learn from them, and you will naturally improve.

Have a great week everyone!

Also, this follow up blog post by Chuck Wendig is relevant. (Are you noticing a theme yet? Follow his blogs!)

Does your strong female character pass the action figure test?

 

Wilmar Luna

Couldn't be a superhero in real life so he decided to write his own. When he's not creating empowered female characters he can be found watching films, reading books, and playing lots of video games.
Buy his books here: https://www.thesilverninja.com/purchase/
Wilmar Luna

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