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For Aspiring Writers

Creating Compelling Characters


This is a big one. A lot of writers worry about making their characters too perfect, too boring, too one dimensional, or a Mary Sue or Gary Stu.

A Mary Sue or Gary Stu can be defined as a character who has a lack of flaws (‘seemingly perfect’), a manifestation of the authors ideals, has implausible talents and liked by all other characters in a story.

There are many a ways to avoid creating such a character:

  • Observe human nature. Whether your main character is a waiter, a business man, Yoda’s great uncle or a baby Voldermort, your main character should act human – they should have qualities and flaws, skills, relationships or lack of relationships, a set of morals or lack of morals and other human traits. Observing yourself and the people around is helpful to create what is called three-dimensional characters. You should see that although some people are very nice, there are certain pressure points that anger them, although some people are moody and broody, there are certain topics that gets their chatter going. It should help you understand there are things your characters like, and also dislike.
  • Struggling. My previous post talked about a character evolving throughout a story. It is important for you to know how the character struggles throughout the story, what decisions do they make? Do they overcome any obstacles? Do they make mistakes? Do they mis-judge? Do they get upset? How do their values contradict with each other? Although it’s important to make sure your character isn’t whiny, it’s important they do human things, wrong things, but with a justification, read on to see more.
  • Empathise, not sympathise. Continuing about justifying your characters actions, if you show us your character screams at their dad, but that’s because they were just told they had terminal cancer that afternoon, then we’ll understand. Or if they’re just having a bad day. The trick is to show what made them feel this way, and we’ll feel that way too, we’ll be screaming at their dad with them, but we’ll cool down and go and apologise to him with your character. Make your reader feel they are taking the journey, not another person.
  • Effective story telling. By revealing your characters personality in a variety of ways, it’s much easier to understand. We choose our friends based on what we know about them, and it takes a few days, and similarly, your reader will need the opportunity to understand your character, their intentions and their lives. Action, description, dialogue, interior monologue and flashbacks are some of the ways you can do this.
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2 thoughts on “Creating Compelling Characters

  1. Pingback: KUNA WATU WAZITO NA WEPESI…and this is why! « njaukinyanjui

  2. Pingback: Making the Reader Care « WriteNow

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