Writing Likable Characters

We all want our readers to be invested in our stories. When a reader invests in your story, they are investing in a continued journey with you as a writer. Besides having someone thoroughly enjoy the work that you put so much effort into, having an invested reader can lead to great opportunities such as representation and publication if you’re seeking a more traditional means of publishing, or a loyal fan-base and more clout on social media if you’ve chosen to go with self-publication. Either way, only good things can come for you and your book if you have invested readers. 

But what is the key to success to capturing the hearts of readers? One of the easiest ways to get a reader completely on board with your book is to create likable and relatable characters. Think of all the books that you personally like – how many of them can you honestly say you like them for reasons other than the characters? Sure, the Harry Potter series is cool and JK Rowling outdid herself when she created the wizarding world, but if you stripped all the magic away, you’d be left with only the characters. And that was truly the heart of the books. It was Harry, Hermoine, and Ron that stole our hearts and made us want to keep reading. You can try to counter argue, but deep down you know it’s true. Take any story of any genre and strip away the fantastical settings, the plot twists, the romances, etc. and you’ll see that it’s the characters that are always at the heart of all our beloved books. 

But what is it about certain main characters that resonate with us and make us feel invested in their stories? All these beloved main characters and side characters that we love to discuss at length with friends, cosplay at events, or make fanart for; the one thing that they all have in common is their likability and relatability. So how do you go about creating characters that people like and want to follow?

Here are some tips:

Vulnerability– giving your character a vulnerability is one of the easiest ways to get your character to resonate with readers. This vulnerability can either be a physical one like a handicap or an emotional one. Either way, seeing a character struggle with their own weaknesses, hopes, limitations, or fears is always a way to get readers to see themselves in a character. 

Backstory– kind of lining up a bit with the vulnerability point is backstory. Introducing a why for the character’s actions or thoughts is always a way to make them seem relatable. And looking to their backstory is a good place to start. This is particularly helpful if you want to write an antagonist that is well-rounded and not just a straight up A-hole. Sometimes some of the best villains have some of the saddest or complicated backstories. Take the most recent Joker film. This is a perfect example of a well-rounded villain. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a bad guy, but getting to see his origins definitely helps us better understand his motivations. And in doing so we end up feeling bad for him – something that ends up making him more relatable in our eyes.  

Failure– letting your main character fail isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can definitely help the relatability of a character. We’ve all faced failure within our own lives. We all love an underdog story with the odds stacked against them. Let your character fail and make a courageous comeback. Their resilience will speak volumes with readers because we’ve all been there. 

Morals– most for the heroes of our stories making them be nice helps a bit. We want to think of characters as being generally nice. Characters that show kindness, generosity, or selflessness are generally seen as “good” and you want your characters to be good. No one likes a character that will kick a puppy and laugh. Of course, steer clear of making them a goodie-two-shoes. Some character flaws do make them more “human.” Also, don’t be afraid of giving your villains some morals too. Just because you have a supervillain who wants to destroy the world doesn’t mean that they can’t have a moment of selflessness. How many times do we end up liking villains after they end up redeeming themselves by showing a selfless side to them? Think Shadow Weaver’s sacrifice of herself to save Adora and Catra in Netflix’s She-ra. Personally, I shed a tear at that.

Humor– whether they’re self-deprecating, snarky, or just plain silly, giving your characters some sort of sense of humor makes them relatable to readers. We all love to laugh. It’s the next universal language besides love. So, it only stands to reason that readers would gravitate towards characters that have a funny side to them. And so long as their humor is true to the character’s personality, it will resonate with audiences.

Self-Awareness– let’s face it, flawed characters are the best characters. But the key to a good flawed character is that they’ve got enough self-awareness to be able to say sorry once in a while for their shortcomings. Giving your characters, particularly your heroes and heroines, a moment of “yeah I know I’m an A-hole sometimes but I’m trying” can definitely help readers cut them some slack for some of their more morally questionable actions. 

Fear and Pain– having a character be motivated by their fear or their pain can definitely make them relatable to readers. How many of us in our everyday lives are motivated to action by pain and fear? That 20-page college paper we’ve all written the night before it’s due was definitely written on pure motivation from fear of failure and a painful lack of sleep. Having characters move through plot points based off their fear and pain will definitely make them relatable. After all, nothing is more human in this life than feeling pain and fear, which is why our characters must feel these things too. 

Playlists and Mood Boards

We’ve all struggled with some form of writer’s block. Either the right words just aren’t flowing, or you’ve hit a wall in terms of story progression. Sometimes the story is there, but we just don’t feel a motivation to write.  Regardless of what form your writer’s block takes, you can’t sit and wait for inspiration or motivation. If you do, your manuscript will never get written. It’s painful, but sometimes you just need to push through until you find your stride again.

While I find that storyboarding everything out definitely helps in terms of linearity, just staring at my cork board full of different colored index cards isn’t always enough to get me fully inspired. Sometimes, you just need a little something extra. 

Playlists and Mood Boards are perhaps some of my favorite tools for getting myself hyped to write. The sounds and visuals definitely help to spark the creativity when basic text on some index cards isn’t cutting it. I like hearing what my characters would be hearing in the moment – it makes me feel like I’ve stepped into their world. Youtube has been my go-to since it’s pretty simple to add songs to playlists for yourself. But a new site that I discovered was ambient-mixer.com. Not only do they already have dozens of already mixed soundscapes to choose from, there is also the option to create your own! That little bit of creativity of making your own mixes will definitely get the creativity flowing. 

As for mood boards, I find that these visuals are wonderful to look at to get in the spirit of your story. You can make one for either a scene, a chapter, or your whole novel. My go-to place is Pinterest, of course. I love to create mood boards for different chapters or characters of mine using the many aesthetic images that interest has to offer. But lately, I’ve gotten a little old school in my pursuits. I’ve taken to cutting pictures out of magazines to printing pictures straight from Pinterest and just making collages at home that I then pin to my cork board along with my notes. It’s very 1995, but it’s fun!

Why You Should Keep Improving Your Skills #3

In life, everything is constantly changing. This applies to books and their current trending genres. One week, fairies are topping the charts, but the next, Greek goddesses have taken over. Depending what genre those examples delve in, the writing is different. Gone are the days when Tolkien’s style of writing was popular. Now, stories told from a First Person POV and leaning heavily towards romance are selling the best. Those two elements can be applied to any setting and genre, but only if you know how to execute it.

Reading in your genre is the best way to see what readers are looking for. As the saying goes, readers want to read the same exact thing, but with minor changes and some originality. Once they pick up a book by you, they expect the others to be similarly written.

If you’re expecting to sell a lot of books, it’s best to stick with the current writing styles of authors topping the charts. It’s a personal decision to attempt getting a book into all of the current trends. Sliding into even one of them will drastically boost your ratings and get the attention of new readers.

At this point, you may be getting a bit defensive at the fact you should improve your skills. There is a vast difference between style and skill. Style is the art of the storytelling. Your style may always be changing or you may have nailed it down earlier on. The skill is the execution of the writing and should always be improving.

In order to succeed, your writing skills will need to constantly be advanced. There’s not enough room for the famous “show, don’t tell” speech here, but you can find our previous articles for reference: Pitfalls to Avoid: Showing vs. Telling and Show, Don’t Tell.

Continued from
Why You Still Need an Editor After Multiple Books

Why You Still Need an Editor After Multiple Books #2

A question that often comes up for seasoned authors: “do I still need an editor? I have x number of books under my belt now. Surely I can self-edit to save money and time.

Famous authors like J.K. Rowling, R.A. Salvatore, Stephen King, etc. still use their editors. Why? They’ve written multiple books and have been writing for years. Shouldn’t they be self-sufficient by now?

Writing a book and editing a book is not the same thing. That’s why an extensive process has been created for publishing. Yes, your work will definitely improve over the years if you continue honing your skills and pay attention to some of the things your editors suggest. There will still be mistakes that another pair of eyes need to catch.

You may be thinking at this point of the article that “It’s okay. I’ll have my best friend or family member read over it and it’ll provide a professional result.” This is often not the case. Even someone who reads books extensively or has an actual college degree in English won’t be able to catch all of the mistakes. Degrees are a piece of paper awarded to someone who completes courses. It doesn’t show their experience or dedication to the work.

Normally, there are three stages to editing: Structural/Developmental, Line Editing, Copy Editing. Laid out like that, it looks easy, but it’s far from simple. A manuscript is normally read through and edited a minimum of five times. Professionals who have studied current genres, story structures, sentence structures, etc. are worth having edit your story and getting it to a traditional publishing level, whether you are attempting that route or self-publishing. Readers expect professionalism and will stop reading after finding mistakes in the book.

But that’s okay. I’ve already established a reader base.” It’s extremely easy to lose readers once they realize your future books are not up to par with the others. The more books you release, the better they are expected to become. Not the opposite.

Continued from
Why You Shouldn’t Withdraw Your Submission Early

To be continued in a later blog post called
Why You Should Keep Improving Your Skills

Finding Your Community

Whether you are a first-time writer just starting out, or a successfully published author with several works under your belt, there is one thing that ever single writer needs: a writing community. Writing can be a very lonely pursuit. However, it’s a journey that we can’t go on alone. We need friends to lean on when we write, ones that understand the complexities of trying to realize the story in your head onto paper. But how do we find our writing community?

Well, if you haven’t already, here are some tips to getting started in your search of a writing circle where you can continue to grow as a writer:

1. Classes: Perhaps one of the best places to find other writers is in a writing class. Specialist writing schools, librarians, and community schools are all great places to start your search for some writing buddies. Plus, there is the added bonus that taking a class or seminar on writing will only help you enhance your writing skills. You can also check out your local bookshop to see if they have any writing-themed events on the horizon as well. 

2. Online writing forums: Perhaps one of the best options for those of us who are either shy or busy, going online can yield some great results. Personally, the NaNoWriMo forums are one of my favorite online forums to interact with other writers. Additionally, Facebook has plenty of writing groups, many of which are specifically dedicated to different genres or topics. All you need to do is go search for your niche. Twitter is another online plethora of everything writing, and there are plenty of wonderful supportive writers that are part of the writing community.

3. Book clubs: Plenty of writers are also avid readers, so it would make sense that if you were to walk into a book club, you’d find at last one other writer amongst the crowd, so joining a book club might be the gateway into finding and forming your own critique group. Even if you happen to be the only writer in the book club, reading and discussing analysis of different books helps to flex your mental muscles – something that can only benefit your own work. 

Either way, don’t despair. Your people are out there and you will find them!