10 Tips for Writing Believable Main Characters

Writing a book is sort of like baking a cake. Each ingredient is equally as important as the next in order to create a tasty masterpiece. And just like in baking, you can create your own version of a story a hundred different ways. However, there are some elements to writing that are like your staple ingredients – you have to nail them if you want your cake to rise. Think of your plot, setting, and characterization as the eggs, milk, and flour of your story. You need to get these right so that the rest of your story to fall into place. But for now, I’m just focusing on characterization.

And here are 10 tips to writing a solid main character:

We all know the main character is supposed to be the most developed, well-described character in the book. But at the same time, there is such a thing as overdoing it. There’s no use wasting words on character descriptions/information that will serve no purpose to the overall story. Trim the fat and keep it all plot relevant.

Think of your readers like little ducklings looking to imprint on a mother figure to guide them through the story. Your main character is that “maternal figure” they’ll be following throughout the story. That’s why you need to introduce your main character as soon as possible so they can spend the crucial beginning chapters forming a “bond” with the MC. To avoid confusion, the first character you introduce should be the main character.

We all love a good character twist, but if you’re going to reveal something big about your character, make sure that it’s done well. Build up to it in tiny little breadcrumbs rather than just dropping the hammer. If your character is hiding a secret, hint to your audience that they’re hiding a secret. You’re not giving the game away, you’re just preparing your audience for a big reveal. That way, when you do finally reveal something big, your audience isn’t left confused.

Sure, letting us know that a character’s hair is brown and their eyes are blue gives as an idea of what they look like, but it tells us nothing about their personality or motives. A character that is always fidgeting, nervously tapping their fingers, or shifty-eyed tells the reader a whole lot more about their personality or role in the story than just being a brunette. Don’t skimp on describing their behaviors, as that can sometimes be more telling and insightful than basic descriptions of their appearance.

Sure, we love a kickass character that can take on any bad guy in a fight, or a cinnamon roll of a character that is so kind and loving, but we can’t make our characters just one thing. They need to be complex, with their own set of strengths and weaknesses that they grapple with. Just like in life no one is perfect, and neither should your characters be either. And just like your heroes shouldn’t be all good, neither should your villains be all bad. The more “human” your characters are, the more authentic they’ll read on the page.  

It can be hard to create a fresh character. Sometimes, we might feel like we’re writing a trope rather than a person. And when it feels like that, you need to take a step back from the story and really sit with your character. Dig deep and get to know them inside and out. Best way to do this is to write a whole biography for them. It might not make it all into the story (and it shouldn’t) but it’ll give you a better understanding of your character and therefore make it easier for you to translate their essence onto the page so they feel both original and relatable.

If your character feels too much like a “cookie cutter” version of a character, or they’re hard to distinguish from other characters in your story, try switching things up a bit with something that sets them apart. It might a distinctive manner of speaking, or a physical attribute, or even just a unique job – anything that might pique your reader’s interest and make them memorable.

Yes, the whole point of a character’s arc is for them to grow and get outside their comfort zone, but you still need to stay true to your character’s personality. If your character is an introverted homebody, would they really all of a sudden be riding a motorcycle through Burning Man? Probably not. And while a character is allowed to change and grow, these changes should feel organic to the story rather than a “whiplash” change. Otherwise, you risk confusing your reader and pulling them out of the story.   

Your main character should always be an active participant in the story. Many times, new writers make the mistake of allowing the plot to just “happen” to the characters. No. Don’t do that. Your characters, especially your MC, should always have an active role and it should be their actions and reactions that drive the story forward.

Our characters are like our babies. We came up with them, nurtured them, and are trying to tell their story. But sometimes, we also have to make the difficult decision to push them towards the background. Not every character we come up with will be MC material. If you’ve finished your story and you’re reading through it and it just seems like the main character is lackluster, it could be because they’re actually a side character. I once wrote a whole book before I realized my real main character was a side character I had introduced back in chapter three. So, don’t be afraid to switch protagonists, it will only make your story stronger.

Author Interview with Michael Raff

Dragon Soul Press took a moment to interview Michael Raff, an author in Haunt and Beautiful Darkness: Volume One.

1. What inspired you to start writing?

When I was in the seventh grade, an acquaintance of mine, shared a short story that
he wrote. I took it home, read it and thought, Hey that’s cool! I can do this, and
proceeded to write several short stories and a full-length western. I’ve never
stopped since.

2. What comes first, the plot or characters?

With me it’s the plot. An idea pops into my head and when I start working on the
details, the characters form.

3. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Other than marketing, sitting down and getting started, which takes me only a
minute or two, then the enjoyment kicks in and I’m off and running.

4. When you’re writing an emotionally draining (or sexy, or sad, etc.) scene, how
do you get in the mood?

The mood materializes as I work. It comes naturally. Since I’m primarily a horror
writer, I’m just about always in the mood. Getting out of the mood is another
matter. While writing Skeleton Man, my first horror novel, I worked quite a while
on the main villain’s death scene, my mind roaming in a dark and dangerous world.
After I quit for the day, it took me hours to get my mind back into reality.

5. Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?

Occasionally, giving me compliments about my writing, but most of their feedback
are from reviews. Here are some samples:
“Author Michael Raff knows how to send chills up your spine. He is a talented writer with a wild
“Michael Raff has a sick mind, which is perfect for writing horror stories!!”  
“Mr. Raff consistently develops strong characters that are totally believable yet continue to
surprise you with their actions. His plots are always multi-dimensional and full of twists and
turns you don’t see coming.”

6. What was your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of the publishing

My favorite part is receiving my completed book. It’s a tangible gratification that’s
beyond description. My second favorite part, is finishing the first draft. It’s also
satisfying, but I’m always eager to start tackling the second draft. The least
favorite? Has to be the rejection notices. I’ve had my share of them.

7. Do you find it more challenging to write the first book in a series or to write the
subsequent novels?

As of now, I haven’t written a book series. I have an idea for one, but it may be
years before I start.

8. Describe your perfect book hero or heroine.

For a hero, a published writer or a school teacher with more than a few quirks and
flaws and at least one skeleton in his closet. A person who despites his drawbacks,
embarks on a challenging and quite often, dangerous journey, all the while
struggling to redeem himself.

For a heroine, a strong, resourceful, and independent woman, who struggles against
mind-boggling odds stacked against her.

9. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your
readers about?

I’m working on my third horror novel, The Seventh Stranger, a ghost story that
takes place in the nineties, about a family who move into a haunted house, thinking
they can utilize it as a bed and breakfast. Little do they know that one of the ghosts
is a homicidal manic. I initially wrote it back in the late eighties on an old writing
program that no longer exists, and incompatible with Word, (talk about ghosts!)
Fortunately, I kept a hardcopy. It’s a great story and by scanning it into my
computer, I’ve been able to convert it into Word. I hope to have it published on
amazon.com by June, 2023.

10. Who is your favorite author and why?

Stephen King. The first book I read of his was Salem’s Lot, back in 1976. I thought
I died and went to heaven. There was a scene where two guys were delivering a
crate containing a coffin in the middle of the night in a cellar. I was reading it at
night, in bed, hoping to relax and go to sleep. As things unfolded, my cat lying at
my feet, suddenly arched her back and began snarling and spitting at the hallway,
her way of telling me something was there. I found the incident quite unnerving and
it sent my heart into a tailspin. As it turned out, another cat had entered the house
through an opened window. It’s something I’ll never forget. But why is King my
favorite author? With his creativeness, his imagination, and his productivity, there’s
just no stopping him.

11. What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

Since I’ve read King’s On Writing, which is a terrific read and extremely
informative, I consider him my honorary mentor.

12. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I read every day. To me, reading and writing go hand in hand. I also exercise but I
don’t actually care for it. I love movies, especially horror, comedy, action, and
adventure. Most of all, I love traveling, mainly to tropical locations where I can
snorkel and mingle with the denizens of the sea. My wife and I take cruises as often
as possible and I enjoy everything about the ocean. I adore animals. We own a small
ranch and have a family of five dogs, two cats, two goats, and a cantankerous horse
named, Freckles.

13. Where can readers learn more about you?

On my main website and my secondary website.

Author Interview with Cherie Lynae Cabrera Suski

Dragon Soul Press took a moment to interview Cherie Lynae Cabrera Suski, an author in the History anthology.

1. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

In second grade, I heard one of my teachers brag to another teacher about the length of the Cinderella retelling I wrote. I remember consciously deciding that I was a writer at that time.

2. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Finding the time. Between being a mom and working full time, my writing usually happens when I should be sleeping or on my phone.

3. How do you do research for your books?

Good ol’ google, I’m also a prolific reader and take the time to interview people if I’m writing about culture, occupation, or places I’m unfamiliar with.

4. What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

I work the night shift as a Labor and Delivery nurse. Success would be making enough money from writing to go down to part-time at the hospital. If I’m being greedy, I’d love it if one of my novels became required reading for a college class.

5. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?

I learned a lot about ancient clothing along the silk road. I found it interesting to see how they changed and complemented each other as you traveled from country to country. Gender roles and cultures in ancient history also intrigue me.

6. Who is your favorite character?

Daiyu, my strong female lead, I loved her independence and strength. I also loved planting her in a world where women weren’t allowed ambitions. Seeing her struggle through some of these cultural expectations made her personality shine.

7. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

I Am Armageddon, my debut novel,  is going through another edit after six months of querying. I’ve learned a lot in those months, and I have faith that she will find a home in the next year.

8. Where do you draw inspiration from?

My work as a nurse, my life journey, the human experience, all inspire me to write. Writing feels spiritual to me at times. I am blessed to have this creative outlet at my disposal.

9. Who is your favorite author, and why?

Anne Rice! It wasn’t until I read the Vampire Chronicles that I felt safe being myself. She showed me that other people in the world feel as passionate as I do about life.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Website, Twitter, and Facebook.

The First Chapter Rabbit Hole

Everyone talks about the importance of the first chapter. And there is truth to it – the first chapter is very important. It’s probably the most important chapter that you’ll write. With that kind of pressure, it’s no wonder that many of us want to get our first chapters as perfect as possible. But that can prove to be a slippery slope. You don’t want to fall down the first chapter rabbit hole.

When you first start drafting a novel, it can easily seem a daunting task, no matter how much outlining and preparation you’ve done beforehand. Add on the pressure of the first chapter, and you can find yourself wanting to get it right the first time. But that will cause you to cripple yourself before you’ve even started. A first draft is also called a rough draft for a reason: it’s rough! You don’t need to try editing as you go along, especially not the first chapter. If you allow yourself to get sucked into the vortex of perfecting the first chapter before you’ve even finished writing the entire manuscript.

Your first chapter will inevitably have to be changed anyways, so why not just get the entire book written first before you worry about what will have to be rewritten? Don’t let the fear of not getting it right stop you from actually writing. The first chapter rabbit hole is just the manifestation of our fears. Don’t worry about getting it right on your first try. Just focus on getting it written. 

Signs You Should Delete a Character

Writing new characters can be a lot of fun. But this isn’t always the case. We might find ourselves looking at certain characters in our cast and wondering if they should even be in our story. Cutting out a character entirely from the story can be 

They don’t add any value to the story. Every character, from the main cast to the side characters, should advance and support your plot. If a character is holding your story back or is not adding anything to it, then you should probably take them out. The bottom line is if your story still makes sense without a particular character in it, then you should probably delete them from the story all together. 

You forget about them.If you are constantly having to squeeze them into every scene or if you find it difficult to find a place for them in the story, then you should probably delete them. Each of your characters should be fun to write and you should always be wanting to fit them in. If your characters are forgettable to you, then they certainly will be to your readers. Don’t give your readers a forgettable character, so just delete them. 

Writing them is difficult. Writing a character should be fun. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. Yes, writing can sometimes be a process and building up a character takes time and work, but it should never feel exhausting or boring. If a character is getting on your nerves or is feeling like a pain to write, then you should probably delete them from your manuscript.