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. 

Write Like It Matters

As writers we all have our moments of doubt. When starting out with a new idea, there is always a moment of hesitation where we question if our idea is “good enough.” It’s a reoccurring fear that we have throughout the whole writing process. It’s why we downplay our work, refuse to show it to certain people, try to skirt questions, and generally act secretive about our writing. We fear ridicule and rejection – having someone confirm our worst fear that the story we care so deeply about, is actually not “good enough.”

But what we have to remember is that our stories are important too. It’s so easy to look to those already published and successful authors and think, “there is no way I’d ever measure up.” Someone once said, “write like it matters and it will.” And that is all we need to keep in mind. So long as what we’re writing is something that we love and care about, it will translate to an audience. Every single one of us has at least one story to tell. And we shouldn’t let any fears or doubts get in our way. So, if you’re currently grappling with self-doubt, let me be the first to remind you that you’re not alone. And your work is most definitely good enough, which is why you need to keep going.

Keep on writing.

Killing Characters

This seems to always be a divisive subject amongst writers. Some writers wouldn’t dream of killing off one of their characters, while other writers are more than happy to recreate their own versions of the infamous Red Wedding from Game of Thrones within their own works. Within the realm of fiction, character deaths can extend beyond just those of the villains. Side characters and even some main characters can be subject to meeting an untimely death. These are the characters that readers will mourn, especially if they happen to be a fan favorite. As writers, we know that not every character’s story can end in happily ever after. But killing characters can be a delicate art. You don’t want the death to be pointless, you want it to mean something. Below are somethings to keep in mind when you’re contemplating a potential character death. 

Positive Reasons to Kill a Character:

1) Kick off the inciting action or to reveal a hidden secret. Sometimes our main character needs to experience the death of another character in order to get them to begin the proverbial hero’s quest. But at the same time, you don’t want the death to come across as cheap writing or cliched. You want this to be meaningful to the plot. In order for the death to be meaningful to the story’s plot, ask yourself if this inciting action can be kicked off any other way? Or can this hidden secret that is integral to the plot, can that be discovered any other way? If not, then you can proceed with the character’s death.

2) To motivate other characters. Again, death can be a great motivator to both heroes and villains. But you don’t want it to be the sole purpose of their motivation, meaning don’t kill a character just to get your hero or villain started on the path of their character arc and development.

3) To highlight a universal truth within your story’s universe. Sometimes some character deaths have to be sacrificial for the greater good of the story. If death is the only way to highlight a universal truth in your story, then do it. Or if you’re writing a series and you get to a point where there is no other way to illustrate a continuing theme then use a character death. 

4) It’s the only logical way of ending a character arc. There are plenty of ways for your character to come full circle and grow. Death doesn’t always have to be the answer. However, there are times when it is the only answer. As the writer of the story, you will know if this is the only way of wrapping up a character’s arc. 

Negative Reasons to Kill a Character:

1) Solely for the purpose of shocking your audience. No, no, no. You will only make your fan base angry. Don’t alienate your fan base.

2) To start some drama. If you’re killing a character just to spice things up within your story, then you really need to re-evaluate your plot. There are definitely tons of other ways to shake things up without having to kill a character. My personal rule is if you feel your story needs something shocking like a death to save it, then you really need to start from scratch again. 

3) Just for the character development of someone else.Yes, sometimes either a hero’s backstory or even a villain’s backstory will include the death of someone close to them in order to get them started on their respective paths. However, killing a character just for the purpose of further developing another character is not necessary. You can achieve the same effect with a less tragic accident. For example, if your story is about two brothers who haven’t spoken in 10 years, you don’t need to reconcile them by having them lose their mom in a firey car crash. Simply having her hospitalized with a broken leg would be enough to get them back in town and have to face one another and eventually reconcile. You still achieve the character development but without the character death. 

4) You’re unsure how to further the character’s storyline. This more applies to minor characters who sometimes serve their purpose in a story, but then we, as writers, don’t know what to do with them. While the topic of what to do with minor characters after they’ve served their purpose is always up for debate, killing them off isn’t advised. It serves no purpose and if they happen to be a well-received minor character, this can end up angering the fandom. 

5) You don’t like them. We’ve all had characters that we don’t like in our stories. And I’m not necessarily talking about villains. Sometimes as writers we create minor characters or even major characters that, as we get into the writing process, come to find we don’t actually like writing them. Either they’re too boring, we’ve gotten sick of writing them, or we simply can’t connect with them. The easiest solution to this is to remove them all together from the story. Make it such that they’ve never existed within our story’s universe. Sometimes I have found that these characters I don’t like are simply in the wrong story and once I find where they fit, they work much better. I’ve also found that if a character is easily removable from the story, then they were irrelevant to it anyways. Of course, problematic characters aren’t always easily removable like this. Sometimes a character needs to be in a story but we, the writers, just can’t stand their story anymore. Don’t kill them off, find another less dramatic way of writing them out.

Author Interview with R.L. Davennor

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Fairytale Dragons Author R.L. Davennor.

1. What inspired you to start writing?

I was a reader first and foremost. After tearing through books in grade school and reading every novel in my favorite genre (fantasy), I still couldn’t get enough, and another problem arose: I was now getting in trouble for reading while my teachers were talking. The solution most beneficial to all was to begin writing my own! Writing during class looked an awful lot like note-taking, and it wasn’t long before I began filling entire notebooks with my stories (which I still have to this day). From then on, I was hooked.

2. How do you handle writer’s block?

This isn’t to sound high and mighty, but I truly don’t experience writer’s block now that I’m in the habit of writing something every single day, whether I’m in the mood or not! If I am struggling with a particular passage, I have a few things I do to help flex my writing muscles. Good old-fashioned coffee is at the top of that list, as is putting on some good mood music. If that still doesn’t help, I sometimes need to just accept that the passage I set out to write isn’t getting done today, but instead of quitting entirely, I move on to a section that is more enjoyable or switch to a different project, making a note of what I was struggling with to help me whenever I’m ready to return to the problem section.

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

Currently, it’s balancing writing and all things author with my day job and other responsibilities. I live alone and work full-time to support myself, so on days I work I’m left absolutely exhausted by the time I get home, and often find that I’m equally as busy on my days off running errands and cleaning. Though it’s hard, I’m pushing through with the goal to one day make writing my job!

4. Which of your books were the most enjoyable to write?

At the time of this interview, I only have one published work: Lyres, Legends, and Lullabies, which is more of a showcase of music I’ve composed rather than a cohesive story. I have two other fantasy trilogies in the works: a dark fantasy epic titled The Blood of the Covenant Trilogy, and a pirate adventure romance titled The Godsworn Trilogy. Though I consider the former my passion project and it’s been in the works since my earliest days of writing, I would say that Godsworn has been more enjoyable to write, simply because I feel freer while doing so. There’s a very set vision I have in mind for Blood of the Covenant, while Godsworn is something I can let loose and have fun writing and creating.

5. What was the inspiration for your Fairytale Dragons story?

When I set out to be part of the Fairytale Dragons Anthology, I knew the most well-known fairytales were likely to be chosen by other authors. I wanted to pick a lesser-known tale both to make my story stand out and to help readers discover a fairytale they may have never heard before. My choice to retell Swan Lake harkens back to my days as a classical musician, and while the tale is deeply familiar to me, it’s definitely not even one of the top ten that comes to mind when people think of the word ‘fairytale.’ As for the retelling itself, considering that Odette is a shapeshifter even in the original, it came easily. One of my critique partners put it best while reading my submission: “You love dark, violent woman, so I wasn’t surprised by [your version of] Odette,” and it’s so true! Most of my works center around such a character, so I didn’t have difficulty morphing the original Odette to fit such a role.

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

Yes! As stated above, I’m currently working on wrapping up the first book in The Blood of the Covenant Trilogy, titled Bloodlust. If you enjoy my story in the Fairytale Dragons Anthology, it’s actually a very accurate taste of what to expect in Bloodlust. It’s gritty, dark, violent, and features a female lead who is all of these things and more. The blurb is below, and it’s set to release on December 29th, 2020!

Dragonsblood is more than life.

It’s magic.

But Rebecca Marella couldn’t care less about hers. She’s more concerned with protecting her cousin—even if it means marrying a man she doesn’t love.

Even if it means lying through her teeth.

And even if her desperate choices lead her to violence.

Yet for every line she’s willing to cross, her enemies are two steps ahead. When tragedy strips Rebecca of everything she’s ever known, she’s forced to confront the source of her terrifying power.

And mixing with dragons is a dangerous game.

Saving those she loves will mean blood on her hands—but each drop spilled only fuels the darkness within her. The more it feeds, the more ravenous it becomes, and satiating the beast will cost more than Rebecca was ever prepared to give.

She must salvage her humanity or find herself among the very monsters she swore to defeat.

7. Who is your favorite author and why?

I truly don’t have one individual that stands out above all the rest. There were plenty of authors who helped shape my childhood: Erin Hunter, Christopher Paolini, Cornelia Funke, Rick Riordan, and Suzanne Collins are certainly up there, as are the Warrior Cats Series, The Inheritance Cycle, The Inkheart Trilogy, Percy Jackson & The Olympians Series, and The Hunger Games respectively, but I tend to gravitate towards individual titles rather than the authors themselves. Nowadays, I read mostly self-published works, and have found tons of new gems to follow: notably Clare Sager, Jenna Moreci, and Meg LaTorre with their works Beneath Black Sails, The Savior’s Series, and The Cyborg Tinkerer.

8. Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

Jenna Moreci immediately springs to mind! You might recognize her from her very popular and successful YouTube channel, and this was how I originally discovered her as well—but she’s also a very accomplished bestselling author! My current read is her dark fantasy novel The Savior’s Sister, the companion novel to the bestselling The Savior’s Champion, and though I didn’t think it was possible, Ms. Moreci has outdone herself in every possible way in The Savior’s Sister. I was lucky enough to receive an Advanced Reader Copy of the novel as it doesn’t release until September 29th, but if you’re a lover of dark fantasy romance, I highly recommend The Savior’s Series. In addition to writing bestselling books, Ms. Moreci also runs a YouTube channel, Writing with Jenna Moreci, in which she makes weekly videos about everything writing, publishing, and more. I admire the way in which she not only gives back to her community but how professional and kind she’s been in each of the personal interactions I’ve been lucky enough to have with her.

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

I love spending time with my partner, reading, caring for my menagerie of pets (I have a cat, four rabbits, a tortoise, three snakes, two frogs, and some fish, and also frequently foster animals from my local shelter), playing video games, and making music either by playing my instruments or composing my own.

10. Favorite artist and/or favorite song?

You can’t ask a professional musician this question! Kidding—but that’s a hard one and the answer will be similar to the ‘favorite author’ question: I really don’t have one, because my taste in music changes by the day, and sometimes by the hour. I listen to quite a bit of classical music, with the mid-late romantic era composers being my favorite (Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Shostakovich, Prokofiev). I love instrumental music in general, as I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while I write as it’s too distracting. Modern favorite instrumental composers include David Chappell, Greg Dombrowski of Secession Studios, and Lucas King.

11. What was your dream job when you were younger?

The first career I ever remember wanting to have is a veterinarian, which makes total sense considering my love of animals, but I’m glad I chose a different path. I’ve seen glimpses of animal surgeries in real life and don’t think I could stomach doing that on a regular basis!

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

Jenna Moreci for several reasons: she has a professional background in business and marketing, has knowledge of video editing given her YouTube channel, and she’s a bestselling author in her own right, who happens to also write in my genre! I could put all of these skills to use and would love to be mentored by and learn from someone as successful (and hilarious) as her.

13. Where can readers learn more about you?

Thank you so much for the interview opportunity, DSP, and for the great questions! And thank YOU for reading! I’d love to connect with you on any or all the places below!

Website – https://rldavennor.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/rldavennor

Twitter – https://www.twitter.com/rldavennor

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rldavennor

Amazon Author Page – https://amazon.com/author/rldavennor

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/rldavennor

To hear my music:

YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_ViU2S2HrTc0XXaOHaWRFw

SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/rldavennor

Narrative Tension for Beginners

Narrative tension. You can’t create a page-turner without it. If there is no tension, the story won’t be very intriguing. How many of us have always dreamed of reading a book about a man who just sits on a bench the entire story? My point exactly. We want to read something that will pull us in. Give us the story of a man on a bench waiting for his blind date when some aliens suddenly land on Earth. That definitely makes things more interesting. Adding tension to your story can be tricky when you’re first starting out as a writer because it’s all about finding balance. You don’t want to overload your story and make it so convoluted with tension that you confuse your readers, but at the same time you don’t want it so thinned out that your story reads more like a to-do list with different characters than an actual plotted out idea. 

So, how do you find that balance? Simple. I’ve come up with some tips for first time writers looking to build tension in their stories. It’s important to keep in mind that tension is something your story should have, no matter if it’s 2,000 words or 200,000 words. 

Keep Raising the Stakes:

Okay, so you’ve got an initial conflict that sets your story in motion, but then you need to layer on top of it the smaller complications that arise from that end goal. Let’s dissect a classic plot for a moment. Lord of the Rings. We have the overarching goal that sets the story in motion, Frodo has the ring of power and he has to get it out of the Shire. But he’s only supposed to get it as far as Rivendell, however, the council votes to take it to Mordor and throw it into the fire and Frodo volunteers. Boom! The stakes just got raised for Frodo. Then the mines of Moria happen and Gandalf is lost. Stakes are raised again for the whole fellowship. Then the group splits up when the Uruk-hai attack. Stakes raised even further. Merry and Pippin are taken hostage causing Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli to go rescue them. More raised stakes – and that’s all just the first book!

But you can see where I’m going with this. One main conflict can have a ripple effect of other conflicts that arise, and your characters have to react to them. Each new minor conflict is you leveling up the tension for your characters, and making your readers want to keep reading because they don’t know how the character(s) will react. Your plot doesn’t even need to have a dragon and five armies to make it tense, every day contemporary stories can be just as intense. It all boils down to your main character wanting something, going after it, and setting in motion a bunch of minor hiccups that arise along the way, making it a constant choice between A or B. Love triangles are a very popular example of this. And a character’s desire doesn’t always have to be this grandiose desire to bring justice and equality to the world and tear down the corrupt system in order for your plot to have a purpose and drive conflict forward. Let us not forget that Shaun of the Dead’s events all started because someone wanted a Cornetto. 

Balance Tension with Moments of Calm:

I know I said you need to keep raising the stakes, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t give your character(s) a bit of break every once in a while. In fact, it’s encouraged. You need to give your readers a chance to digest what’s happening in between obstacles. If you have too many problems arising for your characters all at once, it becomes too much. Plus, these moments of “rest” are where you can build the stories in other ways like characterization or revealing bits of backstory. For example, if you have two bank robbers trying to make it down from Montana to the Mexican border, you can slow it down a bit by maybe giving them a flat tire on a remote stretch of highway somewhere like New Mexico or Arizona. You’d still have the tension of a flat tire when they’re so close to achieving their goal, but there is still a chance to have some calm moments. While the two bank robbers are waiting for Triple A to arrive, they can have an in-depth conversation. One can reveal that he’s trying to pay off a loan shark, while the other can admit he’s never changed a flat tire before. Either way, that slow moment on the highway can be a chance to work on backstory and characterization. 

Don’t think that a story’s action needs to be all rise all the time in order to create tension. You can get the same effect from a few falls. Tension works best when you have a rise and a fall. Another great idea for tension is these false senses of security. When your character thinks they’ve accomplished their task and they’re home free, that is a fine time to reveal that there’s still a little ways to go. Again, drawing back to Lord of the Rings, Frodo gets the ring to Rivendell. Everything seems chill. Those scenes are very calm for Frodo who thinks he’s soon going home. But then the council happens. The “oh my goodness” moment when Frodo offers to carry the ring to Mordor wouldn’t be so powerful if you didn’t have those calming moments before. While Frodo is in his false sense of security you’re able to digest all that he just went through to get to Rivendell. You feel for him. Which brings me to my next point…

Make Your Reader Emotional:

You can create the most intense plot with the perfect rise and fall pacing, but it won’t mean anything if your reader isn’t emotionally invested in what your character is experiencing. I will admit that a good portion of making your reader like your character, is to create a likeable character (I wrote a blog post on that if you want to read it). But another way to get your readers to like your character is using the plot. Even if your main plot of your book is something big like dismantling the ruling system, it’s a good idea to start small in terms of your character’s desire.

One example of this The Hunger Games. Across the three novels Katniss ends up creating a revolution and bringing down the corrupt government. She’s hailed as a hero. But that wasn’t her initial goal. Her initial goal was quite simple and quite relatable: She wanted to protect her sister. Even if we don’t have siblings, we all have at least one person we’d be willing to volunteer for if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation. Therefore, as readers we are more willing to emotionally invest in a character that wants to protect her loved one from death, rather than a character who right off the bat is ready to take down the government. While something small, like a character wanting to return a library book before the library closes or getting a the last bag of jelly donuts for their sick family member can be what is needed to set a bigger plot in motion, it can also serve to make a character relatable to the reader. We’ve all needed to get somewhere before it closes just like we’ve all rushed to the end of the aisle to pick up the last something because it’s for someone we care about, and it’s these small, universal actions that readers relate to that help them become emotionally invested in your character’s conflict. 

Bring the Tension from Various Points:

When we think of tension between characters we tend to think of heroes and villains. And yes, the tension between your hero and your villain is important. But that doesn’t mean that we can overlook the side characters. Some of these side characters can actually help to create tension for your main characters. In fact, some side characters can be integral to subplots that create tension in the story. Never under-estimate the power of secondary conflict. For example, Batman. You have the main conflict of a superhero trying to clean up Gotham’s streets, but at the same, you also have the tension from his personal life as Bruce Wayne to factor in as well. Of course, while you want to bring in tension from all angles, you also don’t want to overcomplicate your plot either. It’s a fine balance.