“Master the craft of writing your fictional friends well and your story will jump from the page.”
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? While answers may very on this one, there’s a comparable question in the storytelling world that I firmly believe has a singular response.
What’s more important, plot or characters?
I’ve written four novels and am rounding the corner on story number five as I craft this blog post. I’m not an expert (I’ll never be one), but I’ve spent my fair share of time around a pen and paper to confidently answer this question.
There. I said it. The best stories are not just about a series of events. They’re about the characters who take the journey. While a strong plot can take the reader through exciting twists and turns, it’s the characters that ultimately hold the hearts of readers long after the story has concluded.
If you want to write a story with characters who will captivate hearts, check out these six quick tips:
1 – Write characters who overlap with your interests. Like many pieces of advice in the writing world, it’s likely that you’ve heard, “write what you know”. I think this guidance applies here. If you’re writing characters with overlapping passions, hobbies, and interests as your own, it’ll show. I’m not suggesting that you don’t ever research and introduce new ideas, but perhaps save that for your secondary characters. Primary characters should have a shared interest with you, the author. Your knowledge and enthusiasm will shine through the page.
2 – Show, don’t tell. Okay, this tip obviously applies to way more than just character development. But it’s imperative that it’s done well here. There’s a variety of ways to help the reader intimately understand your characters. You can focus on clothing or physical appearance. Or you can rely on mannerisms and emotional responses to help your reader get to know the protagonist (or even antagonist). On the surface, it’s not important which detail you choose to write, what’s important is that you give your readers a chance to intimately understand each character in your fictional world and how they relate to it.
3 – Be smart with skills. It’s all about planning and knowing in advance what your characters will need to meet their goals (both internal and external). It’s okay if you’re a pantser, but if you’re a plotter this tip will be easier to achieve. Write your characters so that they have something in their back pocket throughout their journey to reach success by the end. For example, think about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Ron excelled at Wizard’s Chess. Hermoine demonstrated her book smarts and cleverness in the classroom. And Harry was known for his boldness and bravery on the Quidditch pitch. All three character’s skillsets were needed to defeat Lord Voldemort (and Professor Quirrell) beneath the trapdoor.
4 – Give each character something memorable. You can write a novel with two characters or ten. The trick is to make each one have something unique that sets them apart from any other character in the story. Try and assign a quirk or quality that will be easy for a reader to recall. They can be clumsy and have red hair, have a birth mark or scar, or be known for their ability to recite the alphabet backward. No matter the trait or ability, it just needs to be memorable.
5 – It’s about the inner conflict just as much as the external. This tip might be controversial, but I’m a proponent of this writing tactic. Give your main character(s) internal monologue. It will help the reader infer the character’s inner thoughts and expose their true turmoil. Find the balance between exposition and plot with a character’s internal conflict and thoughts.
6 – Surprise your readers. The best characters will surprise the reader—even if they’ve been privy to their inner monologue throughout the story. Allow your protagonist (and antagonist if applicable) to pull a fast one and do something unexpected. Strong characters will step beyond their comfort zone and move the plot forward. If you want to write a memorable character, their actions need to be the catalyst for something big.
Master the craft of writing your fictional friends well and your story will jump from the page. Have anything to add? Drop it in the comments below!